Elder’s Corner (#384)  Apathy

Problems facing the body of Christ are many and varied. The devil opposes us with persecutions, false doctrines, and all kinds of fleshly temptations. But one of his most successful devices is apathy - an attitude of indifference which afflicts Christians and eats away their zeal like a cancer. It is highly contagious and, if unchecked, is fatal to the souls of men and women. In many areas, it has now reached epidemic proportions.

The word “apathy” is an interesting word, coming from the Greek “apatheia” which means without feeling. In English we have the word Pathos which means strong passion. The prefix “a” negates the original meaning and identifies absence. So apathy means without feeling; no passion; without fervent spirit. The simple meaning is well expressed by “Who Cares?” The Lord is not pleased with apathy. Christ had rather we were hot or cold rather than existing in that nauseating middle of being lukewarm (Revelation 3:14-17). Indifference was the problem with the church in Laodicea. To that dead congregation, Jesus said, "I know your works, that you are neither cold or hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:15-16). How many churches of Christ are in that same condition today?

Unbelief is the basis of apathy. “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God,” (Hebrews 3:12). “...be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, inasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord,” (I Corinthians 15:58).

Ingratitude is the fuel of apathy. Paul describes the behavior of sin in terms of people who knew God in some superficial way, but “did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful,” (Romans 1:21). One cannot spell apathetic without the word pathetic. Inaction is the behavior of apathy. If you do not care, you do not act! All through the book of Acts, the saints who carried on the work of the Lord were those who believed, cared, and loved. Inaction and lack of initiative is evidence of apathy.

Indifference is the attitude of apathy. Attitudes are hard to hide. If you don’t care about the things of God, it is hard to conceal that. If you are unconcerned about the lost, that will be seen in your inaction toward them. Silence is the language of apathy. If you don’t care, you probably will not say anything.

Spiritual apathy is a choice. In part, it denies (consciously or not) that God is actively involved in our lives. It admits that nothing much will change – despite the presence of the powerful Spirit within us – and that, in the current state of things, there’s nothing much to get excited about. Spiritual apathy takes things for granted – even the gift of life – and says, “Why bother?” Why bother worshiping? Why bother praying or reading God’s word? Why bother having fellowship or giving?

Let us rid ourselves of this terrible disease. It insults heaven, disgraces grace, abandons the lost, gives great occasion for the enemies of God to blaspheme, and crucifies once again the Son of God. The cause of Christ deserves the very best we have to offer.

When we spend more time watching TV and playing ball than we do studying and teaching the word of God, are we not indifferent? When we find time to go to the movies and other places of entertainment, but not to visit the sick and erring, are we not indifferent? The time has come for us to wake up and get to work. Our indifference will send us to eternal hell!

Elder’s Corner (#383)  Waiting for Our Prayer to be Answered

 Have you ever gone through a period in your life when you were tempted to give up on something you were praying for because the answer seemed too long in coming?

The truth is, we’ve all experienced times when we prayed in faith, but the answer to our prayers seemed to come far too slowly.

How long should I continue believing God for the answer to my prayer to come to pass in my life? Should I just give up hope that my answer will ever come? Is there anything special I should be doing while I am waiting for God to answer my prayer request? What attitude should I maintain while I continue to wait for my answer?

These questions are all very applicable to our spiritual walk, so let’s see what the Bible has to say about how we should respond when the answers to our prayers are delayed. In Colossians 4:2, the apostle Paul outlined the kind of attitude we must maintain as we wait for the answers to our prayers. He wrote, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

There will undoubtedly be times in your life when the answers to your prayers won’t come quickly. However, God requires you to stay spiritually strong — pushing forward and continuously engaging in robust prayer until you see what you are believing Him for come to fruition. If you are tenaciously determined to continue in prayer, you will receive the answers you seek. Resolutely refuse to give up until we have obtained that for which we are praying.

Prayer should bring us face to face with God. Prayer is more than a mechanical act or a formula to follow; it is a vehicle through which you can enjoy a close, intimate relationship with God, especially when you are trying to break through spiritual barriers or press deep into the Spirit. God wants you to meet Him face to face and surrender every area of your life to Him. In return, He promises that you will receive the answers you seek. Once you pray in faith and begin to make the changes God requires of you, you need to stay vigilant and watch for the answers to your prayers to show up!

In this verse, Paul teaches that you must persistently engage in aggressive prayer — heartily seeking a specific answer from God as you keep your attitude vigilant and your eyes watchful for the soon-to-be-manifested answer. As you take that stance of faith, lift your voice to thank God in advance for the answer you are seeking! Thanksgiving is the voice of faith that thanks God for the answer before it comes! It is hard to be discouraged or defeated when you are continually thankful, so be sure to maintain a thankful, faith-filled heart as you watch for your answer to arrive!

Colossians 4:2 could be paraphrased:

Be committed to ongoing and relentless prayer! You have to press toward that answer you are seeking. You have to be devoted to the goal of obtaining it as you stay engaged in the robust, strong, stout, never-give-up kind of prayer that brings you straight into the presence of God! While you are persistently and aggressively praying, you also need to stay wide awake, constantly keeping your eyes open as you look for and expect your answer. And while you are doing all of this, don’t forget to stay in an attitude of thankfulness that gives thanks to God in advance for the answers you are seeking.…

So what should you do if you are praying in faith and the answer still hasn’t come? It’s time for you to dig in and press in the Spirit toward the answer. Be willing to make whatever changes God may require of you, and keep your eyes open for the answer. Finally, lift up your voice, and start thanking Him now for the answer even before it comes!

  • Adapted from an article by Rick Renner. (Renner.org)

Elder’s Corner (#382)  Reflecting Back on Our Lives

Psalm 38:10 – “My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.”

Today is just another day. A day in which there are many things for me to do – some easy and some not so easy, some maybe impossible.  In my mind, I tell myself “Ha! I can do that!” In truth, I will have great difficulty doing them if at all.  These melancholy days of late life, (I am rapidly approaching 70) are perhaps the ones for which to be most cautious.  Will I spend them idly, fearfully, foolishly?  Most days the heart still roars like a young lion, but the body knows differently.  It would be easy to spend each day reminiscing about more vibrant days as men often do when focusing on the teenage or college days of athletic triumphs.  Importantly, I must not daily sit still in this manner, but go and live life and fulfill the purpose of my days giving glory to God in the good works He has prepared me to do.  Still, reflection is not a forbidden thing.   The words of the Psalmist David ring true in regard to the failing light of the eyes.  It’s impossible to see clearly any more without the help of my glasses.  There may come a day before the final ticking of the clock that the vision goes completely away.

When your eyes no longer behold the things of this earth, what visions will you behold?  What goodness, what joyfulness, what images will fill your mind. Will you see the loving kindness of God?  What activities of worth are we engaged in right now, while the light in our eyes shines on and we can still move about following our own will?  It is said that the mind stores everything we have ever heard, said, or done.  The question is: what will we fill our time with now, in these later years of our lives that we might recall in the future?  Will we remember the day in and day out of work or the time spent in the arms of our loved ones?  Will we remember the moments of smiling and singing in worship with our friends or level 23 of a popular video game?  When the eyes are unable to see, will your mind be full of the hope and promises of God or reruns of a television sitcom?  It is a good thing to live a quiet life providing for our families with the work of our hands.  Moments of relaxation and restfulness are pleasant as well.  When the darkness replaces your sight, what will bring joy and remembrance of the loving kindness of God?  Will you recall the baptism into Christ of your friends and family?  Will you recall seeing the faces of those once lost as they hear the promises of God and accept Jesus as their Savior?  Will you recall times spent providing care for those truly needing it?  Will you recall the awe of the amazingly intricate display of the heavens above declaring the mighty power of your Heavenly Father? There are pure, wholesome, Godly things with which we can reflect upon happily if we gather them into our life now.

Proverbs 3:21-22 – “My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.” Though our bodies grow tired, our eyes dim, our days wind down, do not fail to finish the race put before you.  Live the honest, pure, lovely, virtuous things of life.  Spend your days with discretion not embracing worldliness which will only leave you with shame and guilt to picture in your final days.  Rather walk in wisdom, enjoy each breath, and experience the peace of God.  The aches, pains, and weakness are going to come if you are blessed to see many days.  Just don’t let them stop you from marching onward.  Thank God and keep on making memories of everything around you while the light still shines in your eyes.

Elder’s Corner (#381)  Addictions

Many Christians still struggle with sin.  Many struggle with addictions.  Addictions to marijuana, to alcohol, to pornography, to gambling, to overeating, to shopping, and so many other sins.  Is there any hope in breaking the chains of addictions?  Since many Christians struggle with the sins of addiction they begin to doubt their own salvation. What can a believer do to escape…to overcome their sin?

If anyone could overcome sin, surely it was the great apostle Paul.  He wrote more books in the New Testament and founded more churches than any other apostle.  Even though this great man of faith was a spiritual giant, he struggled with sin too.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you will not struggle with overcoming sin in this life after you are saved. Read about Paul’s problem in Romans 7:15-24.

Step 1 in overcoming our addictions, is to realize we have a problem, and the second step is to WANT to stop sinning. I don’t care if you realize that you have a problem, if you don’t want to stop, then you will not.  Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom, financial ruin, embarrassment, loss of self-respect, loss of friends, or broken marriages and loss of children, before we will want to stop the addiction. Usually this is what is necessary to stop. Very few WANT to change while they are having a good time.

This is when good friends, ministers, counselors, and family can be most helpful. Often they can see the signs of an addiction before it is recognized by others. They can “see” the changes in personality, activities, or hear the constant excuses that are made. With support these people can help the addict WANT to stop.  It isn’t easy! But, it is the first step in turning around a lost soul.

You cannot overcome sin on your own…you cannot conquer your marijuana addiction on your own… you can’t overcome the addiction to pornography by your own strength…you can’t defeat the enemy of alcohol, gambling, overeating, depression… just name it:  You just can’t do it… but God can!  He wants to help you overcome the powerful sins of your life and your strong addictions. 

When we tell God “I just can’t beat this thing God”, God will use His almighty power to help you. The Holy Spirit will intervene on your behalf and the healing will begin. Now is anything really too hard for God?!  No!  We have no power in ourselves but the Holy Spirit is God and the very power of God working in you.   You need to do is to acknowledge to God that you cannot overcome this by your own power.  That is exactly what He has been waiting to hear.   Victory will only come in defeat.  You are in over your head but God is over all things. 

Pray day and night for the help you need.  God can deliver you!  But it takes time. Don’t lose heart. You will slip and fall but get back up, pray for forgiveness and ask God to cut off all the sources of your drug addiction, if you are addicted to pornography, get rid of the Internet.  Jesus said, speaking in hyperbole, “If your hand offends you, cut it off“(Matt 5:30).   What He is saying is to cut off the source of your addiction or sin.  If you can’t get rid of the Internet, then have a friend put a password protected filter on it.  If you are addicted to drugs, turn in the illegal drug dealers.  Drastic yes, but this is what it must take.  God can do all things…He created the universe and He can help deliver you and He desires to help you overcome this addiction but you may have to make some painful decisions.  We can do nothing on our own…but we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Phil 4:13).  The converse of that is that we can do nothing in our own strength.

Elder’s Corner (#380)  What happens after death?

It’s a question that has crossed everyone’s mind, because death happens to everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, or status. So what does the Bible say?

One of Jesus’ most significant miracles recorded in the Bible was the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead (John 11). There are other instances of people who had been raised from the dead, but unlike those mentioned before in the Bible, Lazarus had been dead for an entire period of four days. When Lazarus died, Jesus said, “‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep” (John 11:11-13).

The Bible compares death to sleep more than fifty times. After death we are asleep, we are unconscious; we are not aware of the passing of time or of what is going on around us. That is what death is like as well. The Bible says, “for the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing… their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, see also Psalm 146:4; 115:17). It makes sense that after Lazarus was raised from the dead, he doesn’t share what he saw or experienced. He didn’t have anything to tell, except that once he was dead, and now he is alive! He didn’t experience hell or heaven. He was simply “sleeping” in his tomb. Peter on the Day of Pentecost said the same of King David. “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day…For David did not ascend into the heavens…"(Acts 2:29, 34).

God formed the body from the dust of the ground, and then He breathed His life-giving spirit into the lifeless body—and the result was a soul, or a living being. When a person dies, the reverse takes place. The breath of life departs from the body, and the soul no longer exists in the body. That’s what the Bible says. “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7, NIV). At the resurrection, God provides a new immortal body and His life-giving spirit—and the person lives again.

The righteous will be raised to life at Jesus’ second coming. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). According to this verse, the righteous do not go to heaven when they die. They remain asleep in the grave until Jesus returns and raises them to immortal life (see 1 Corinthians 15:50-57). The prophets never mention in the Bible that the righteous immediately go to heaven or the wicked go to hell when they die. Neither did Jesus and His apostles teach it.

When He returns, those asleep in Christ will awake from their tombs. No matter how long the time has passed, be it long or short, will seem but a moment to them. By the voice of Jesus, they are called forth from their deep slumber they will begin to think just where they ceased, awakening to a glorious immortality. “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible … ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:52, 54).

The last sensation was the pang of death, the last thought, that they were falling beneath the power of the grave, but then, imagine, when they arise from the tomb to the shout, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Elder’s Corner (#379)  Josiah - An Example for Us (2 Kings 21 – 23)

In a world that is so wicked today, how can we remain faithful to God?  How can we tune out the sins of the world?  Is there any hope for us in our struggles? The answers to these questions reside in the Bible. The question is, of course, will we read it and obey?

Josiah, the king of Judah (641 to 609 B.C), was righteous in a time of wickedness. He was faithful in an evil environment. His righteousness was unsurpassed by any king before or after him (Wow! Read 2 Kings 23:25). He was righteous even though his family was wicked. One can read of the wickedness of Josiah's grandfather, Manasseh; his father Amon; and his sons, Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. He was righteous even though the Judean society was evil. According to 2 Kings 21, they were worse than the nations God had destroyed, they had filled Jerusalem "with blood" and they were totally given over to idolatry.

Josiah's faithfulness was seen in numerous ways in his life. It was seen in the changes he instituted. In the eighth year of his reign he "began to seek after God" (2 Chron. 34:3). In the twelfth year of his reign he brought sweeping changes to Judah which included purging Judah of the "high places" and idols, breaking down the altars of Baal and punishing the idolatrous priests.

His faithfulness is also seen in his tender-hearted reaction to the Law of God (2 Kings 22). While work was being done on the Temple, the book of the Law of God was found (v. 8). Josiah recognized the value of the book of the Law (vv. 11-13). He had godly sorrow over Judah's sins (v. 11). He desired to learn more of the word (vv. 12-13).

How could Josiah remain faithful in the midst of such evil? What reasons could be given to explain his faithfulness? Though one might cite different factors to account for his strong faith, there was one main attitude that he possessed which undergirded his loyalty to God: He had a tender heart toward the word of God. God, in speaking of Josiah, in 2 Kings 22: 19 said, "because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke..."'

Josiah tender-heartedly recognized the word of God for what it was. He received the will of God and he humbled himself before it. He was filled with godly sorrow over sin so he cleansed its evil and impurities from his life. He sought to know as much of the will of God as he could. He walked in the way of God by humbly obeying the commands of God. 2 Kings 23:3 says of him, "Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book."

Also, knowing the value of the book of the Law of God, he shared the word with others. Verse two of 2 Kings 23 says, "The king went up to the house of the Lord with all the men of Judah, and with him all the inhabitants of Jerusalem -- the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord." Because of his influence, "all the people took a stand for the covenant" (2 Kings 23:3).

The life of Josiah presents a wonderful example for people today for it demonstrates how one may find favor with God. The key to finding favor with God is to have the attitude that Josiah had toward the word of God.

Elder’s Corner (#378)  Procrastination

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. (Proverbs 27:1)

As Mark Twain used to say, “Why put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow.”

I've been intending to write on “procrastination” for years now, but for some reason or another I just kept putting it off.

When we procrastinate doing boring or mundane jobs it’s usually no “big deal,” but the thought that these things have to be done will nag us until we do them. But sometimes we procrastinate when it comes to doing some really important things such as: going to the doctor for a checkup.......or doing our taxes.........or writing out our will......... paying bills. When we procrastinate on these kinds of things it can prove to be very costly to our health, or our wallet, or both.

And there's times when we procrastinate when it comes to important spiritual matters, such as reading our Bible, or spending time in prayer, or giving up a sinful habit, or talking to loved ones or friends about Christ or even accepting Christ and being baptized. Procrastinating on important spiritual matters can not only have a serious effect on our relationship with God, it can even have eternal consequences.

Some people become chronic procrastinators simply because they just don't want to do any more than they just absolutely have to do.  They are content with “status quo;” they are perfectly happy with mediocrity.                

Proverbs 13:4: A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.

In a sense, procrastinators are “escape artists.”  When there is something they dread doing or simply don't want to do, the first thing they will do is look for an “escape”.

Each day, God deposits 24 hours into our “time bank.” That is 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds.   We cannot carry the gift of time from one day into the next.  Once the day has ended, that allotted time is gone forever.  We can't go back and capture those moments. 

Psalm 103:15,16 The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

Psalm 90:10, 12 Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. … Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

The way to “count our days” is to “make our days count.” Each day is a gift FROM God; and what we do with each day is our gift TO God.

Colossians 3:17:  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the LORD JESUS, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

You and I should desire to honor Christ by being diligent each and every day. May we not be like the world.  May we not be guilty of “killing time” or “wasting time, but rather being as productive as we can possibly be each day. Will we get everything done we set out to do each day?  Probably not!  But may we know the satisfaction of honoring Christ each day by being by being as productive as we can be.

Elder’s Corner (#377)  Are You Approachable?

As Christians, we are “members of one another” (Rom. 12:5), and we have very specific responsibilities to each other.  Our Father expects us to “greet one another,” “edify one another,” “comfort one another,” “submit to one another,” “serve one another,” “bear one another’s burdens” and “confess [our] trespasses to one another” (Rom. 16:16; 14:19; 1 Thess. 4:18; 1 Pet. 5:5; Gal. 5:13; 6:2; Jas. 5:16).  Think about these words and consider this key quality that you must possess for these things to be possible - you must be approachable!  Think about it! 

How can others greet you, edify you, comfort you, submit to you, serve you, bear your burdens or confess trespasses to you, if you are not approachable?  It would be impossible!  Every Christian, without exception, must be approachable, and some (like preachers and elders) must be even more so.  So, a critical question for you to consider is this, “Am I approachable?”  Are people comfortable in coming to me, talking to me, being around me?  Or, are they hesitant to approach me, feeling uneasy, uncertain or awkward?  I must honestly evaluate myself! 

Jesus was the most approachable person who ever lived, therefore, He is the perfect standard by which we should measure ourselves.

Being approachable requires humility.  Arrogance is such a deterrent, but Jesus, the Son of God, “humbled Himself” (Phil. 2:8).  Am I humble, truly humble? 

Being approachable requires compassion.  When one’s heart is moved, one will be moved to appropriate and loving action, as Jesus was (Ma. 9:36).  Am I compassionate, truly compassionate? 

Being approachable requires friendliness.  Jesus was friendly, even to those who were not friendly toward Him (John 4:9), and even took me for little children (Ma. 19:13-15).  Am I friendly? 

Being approachable requires openness.  Jesus opened Himself up to the point that anyone could approach Him at any me about any matter (Ma. 9).  Am I open and available to my brethren? 

Being approachable requires trustworthiness.  People opened up to Jesus about their darkest troubles, because they knew He could be trusted.  Am I truly trustworthy? 

Being approachable requires a willingness to help.  People who followed Jesus and heard about Jesus knew that, if nothing else was true about Him, He was willing to help people out.  Am I truly (and obviously) willing to help? 

To properly obey the “one another” commands of God, I must be approachable!  How would Jesus grade me?

Every Christian, without exception, must be approachable, and some (like preachers and elders) must be even more so.  So, a critical question for you to consider is this, “Am I approachable?”  Are people comfortable in coming to me, talking to me, being around me?  Or, are they hesitant to approach me, feeling uneasy, uncertain or awkward?  I must honestly evaluate myself!  Jesus was the most approachable person who ever lived, therefore, He is the perfect standard by which we should measure ourselves.

Elder’s Corner (#376)   Degrees of Reward and Punishment

Acts 26:20 speaks of "performing deeds appropriate to repentance."  But in Galatians 2:16 we read: know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. … put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ … because by the works of the law no one will be justified. Then further, Galatians 5:6 speaks of "faith working through love."

Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians of his abundant work for the Lord. Paul did not do the many good works that he did in an effort to gain salvation; rather it was the grace of God and salvation itself that led Paul to do what he did. We are expected to do good works, but not everyone is able to do good works equally. Some have “talents” greater than others.

Will some receive a greater reward for their greater service in the kingdom? If we’re being judged by our works, is it possible that our works therefore determine the extent of our reward in heaven?  Will those who do greater works perhaps merit greater rewards?  Will people like Peter and John and Paul receive a greater reward in Heaven than those of us who probably fall short of being the servants that they were?

It does appear that there may be various degrees of punishment.  2 Peter 2:21 speaks of those who at one time had been faithful Christians and then turned away: "For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them." Another passage regarding degrees of punishment is Luke 12:47-48. In the context of being ready for the Day of Judgment, Jesus said, "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more."

Peter mentioned that elders will receive an "unfading crown of glory." Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:17, The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. Is Paul here saying that the reward is in heaven on or the earth? Surely good and faithful leaders of God's people are deserving of great honor and glory in Heaven. James warned that teachers "shall incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).  Is it reasonable then to conclude that good and faithful teachers of the word shall receive a greater reward?

The apostle Paul suffered numerous hardships because of his dedication to the Lord; will he perhaps be therefore blessed with greater honor throughout eternity?  What about Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Peter, John...? Noah and Enoch walked with God. Noah alone was found righteous out of millions of people; Enoch was taken so that he did not see death. Elijah, that great prophet of God, was also taken up to be with God. Is it then perhaps reasonable to consider that some will receive a greater reward for greater works?

Whether some receive greater rewards than others, it is evident from Scripture that salvation itself is a gift of God that no one can deserve by their own merits. Despite all our good works, despite all our accomplishments at sanctification, we all still stand in need of a Savior. We will never deserve eternal life because of what we have done. Thank God for what He has done

Elder’s Corner (#375) – Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign  (not used)

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind

Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?

  • Five Man Electrical Band

A young boy asked: “Dad, do you know what year Jesus is coming back?”

The boy’s father always wanted to answer his son’s questions with firm, confident, black-and-white truths, but this time he had to admit his ignorance.

The Bible does give us some very black-and-white things to say in moments like these, though. He told him that he did not know the year, and that even Jesus himself, when he was on earth, said that he didn’t know the exact time when he would be coming back (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). He also took the opportunity to emphasize that if anyone says that he knows, that person is false. Then he added that even though he didn’t know what year Jesus is coming back, he did know that his coming is near.

The question the little boy asked is one we all must have asked ourselves one time or the other. Even the apostles wanted to know the answer. Jesus tried to explain the “signs” of the time.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each contain an account of Jesus teaching His disciples what to watch for before He returns. Jesus gave a series of signs that must occur before He returns. People who go running around uttering their own ideas and predictions about Christ’s return on a particular day are false prophets. They are not heeding the words of Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote in Romans 13:12, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” The “times of ignorance” (as he said at Athens, Acts 17:30), has passed with the coming of Jesus. And he wrote: “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). The day of Christ’s coming, Paul says, has drawn near.

Then Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:1, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” And the times of difficulty he refers to were already happening for his readers. He was saying, in effect, “Don’t be surprised that life is tough; these are the last days, remember?”

Peter, in 1 Peter 4:7, writes, “The end of all things is at hand.” Some have wondered whether Paul and Hebrews were referring to the coming destruction of Jerusalem (which happened in 70 A.D.) as the “day” that was “the day drawing near,” but Peter said, very simply, “The end of all things is near.” Then in 2 Peter 3:3, Peter gives us a warning: “Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” For Peter’s readers, and for us, the scoffers aren’t future; they are here now. We are living in the last days.

Finally, James says plainly and unmistakably in James 5:8, “The coming of the Lord is at hand.” Jesus’s return is near. That’s what James, Peter, and Paul believed — and what the faithful church has hoped for two thousand years. We should believe this and be ready for this today. Are you ready?

Peter wrote this about the Bible’s prophecies: “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it ... Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19–21).

Elder’s Corner (#374) – Before the Womb and After the Tomb

 In industry there is a concept that uses the philosophy described by the words: “From the womb to the tomb.” Basically, it represents the idea that the beginning of a program begins with an idea for a product and ends when that product is delivered in the customers’ premises. Without getting into an evaluation of this philosophy, let me tell you of another program that surpasses this concept.

Think of how the Bible describes heaven’s concern for us which precedes our earliest existence. Paul spoke of this when he affirmed that God “...has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim. 1:9). Paul also wrote to Titus about the “hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Tit. 1:2). Before time began! That’s when His care for us started!

His care for us even precedes the time we were placed in our first cradle. Paul told the Galatians that God “separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace” (Gal. 1:15). And God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). Some may see these as showing a unique relationship God had with His prophets, but it does show God knows individuals when they are in the womb.

David’s words leave little doubt about God’s concern for individuals before they are born. “For you formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb… My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth” (Ps. 139:13,15).

He also cares for us in infancy. “But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother's breasts” (Ps. 22:9). He has His angels who watch for every child on this earth (Matt. 18:10).

Space does not allow us to show His presence throughout all of our lives, but He is present! His eyes are over us (1 Peter 3:12) and He never leaves or forsakes us (Heb. 13:5). He is also with us in death (Ps. 23:4).

From womb to the tomb? His care is better than that! He cares for us before the womb and after the tomb! This is not just a philosophy. It is an eternal truth from heaven!

Remember that “all life matters!”  Life is a gift from God (Acts 17:25); therefore, life (no matter who’s it is) must be respected and cherished.  Remember that God loves every person (no matter who it is) and Jesus died for every person (no matter who it is) (John 3:16; Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:4-6); therefore, the soul of every person is equally valuable (Matt. 16:26).  Remember that the gospel is for all (Mark 16:15) and has the power to change and save any and every person (Rom. 1:16; 1 Tim. 1:12-16); therefore, we must unashamedly share the gospel with every living soul.  Remember that Jesus is the answer to every problem, issue and tragedy of life (John 14:6; Acts 4:12); therefore, we must point every living soul to Him.  Remember that children of God are the only light that exists in this dark world (Matt. 5:16; Eph. 5:8). Therefore, we must not be ashamed to let our light shine forth for the glory of God.  In God’s eyes, your life matters!  In His eyes, every life matters!

Elder’s Corner (#373) – “Who told you that you were naked?”

They believed a lie and they ate— Eve then Adam. With that act came the responsibility to discern between good and evil. They immediately were ashamed and sought to hide themselves, even from each other. When God came to the garden, they were hiding. He asked them, “Who told you were naked?” The sin was a burden that ultimately cost them their lives.

The real problem that occurred in the Garden is that it robbed Adam... and God... of the very special relationship they had. It drove a wedge between them... placed distance between them. God asked... WHO DID THIS?

We are still dealing with Satan’s lies that cause a great burden. A survey was once taken on the following question: “What one thing would you change about your body?” I can imagine the people asked would say: “Just one?” Most of them said that they were “too fat” or “too short “or too something”.” Then they asked the same question to children aged 4 to 11. You know what they wanted? Mermaid tails, shark teeth and wings to fly were among the things mentioned. Some shrugged as though they had never thought about it and others said, “There is nothing I would change.”

So my question to you would be, “Who told you that you were too tall, short, fat or skinny?” Satan uses our self-image as a tool to keep us focused on what society would say we should look like. This is a fickle, subjective and unrealistic beauty. Health concerns aside, it doesn’t matter. No amount of anxiety or worry will change those things that you were born with. “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt. 6:27). Satan would have us trapped in the prison of our own self-loathing and abasement, not feeling worthy of love and overpowered by a distorted self-image and self-worth.

Listen to what God says you are. “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).  “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet. 2:9). “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

We were given this earthly home for just a short time. Do not be burdened with Satan’s lies. It is God that has formed us and God that says who we are. It is God that paid a price so high for us that no one should ever feel worthless.

What God thinks of you (according to Ephesians chap. 1, Vs 1-13):

You are blessed (vs.3)

You are chosen (vs.4)

You are holy and blameless (vs.4)

You are an adopted son/daughter (vs.5)

You are redeemed through His blood (vs.7)

You are seated with Him (Jesus) with the Spirit (vs. 13)

Elder’s Corner (#372) – Sprinkled with the Blood of Jesus

What is this referring to?”

This is a great question and involves a concept that is not readily recognized by Christians today.  To the Jewish readers whom Peter addressed, “sprinkling of the blood” would have been well understood.  To Gentile Christians today (that’s us), the meaning is not as clear, and reading the word “sprinkling” in the New Testament makes us a bit uneasy and confused.

The sprinkling of blood had a special significance to the Jews, as it was an integral part of their sacrificial system. Before Moses went up to Mount Sinai, he took the blood of bulls and sprinkled it on the people. We read: “When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said. …Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” ” (Exodus 24: 4, 8) (Note the similarity between these words and Jesus’ words when He instituted the Lord’s Supper.) 

This blood represented the sealing of a covenant or promise to the people of Israel. Because blood represents life, its sprinkling on the congregation represented a vital commitment between God and His people.

While blood was the means by which God’s people secured atonement in the Old Testament, no matter how much blood was sprinkled, “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4).  Also we read: “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:13-14).  Like the blood of bulls and goats sprinkled the unclean, the blood of Christ will “cleanse your conscience” completely to serve the living God! 

“To God’s elect,  …who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.”  (1 Peter 1:2). According Peter, the blood of Christ is applied to us for the same purpose as the blood was applied in the Old Testament – obedience to God’s Word.

Jesus is the only way to God (cf. John 14:6)!  Look at Hebrews 10:22 carefully.  We have access to God (draw near to God) through faith, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  So, in this passage, is faith, turning from an evil conscience and baptism (washed with pure water, cf. Eph. 5:26; Titus 3:5).  When we are baptized, we “appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Pet. 3:21), and God cleanses us with the blood of His Son (Acts 22:16).

The blood of Christ is figuratively sprinkled on our hearts to cleanse us from an evil conscience when we repent and are baptized (summarized in the word “obedience” in 1 Peter 1:2).  Only then is one elect, sanctified, consecrated and cleansed, in order to serve the living God!

Elder’s Corner (#371) – Understanding the Truth

 A mechanic in Mangum, Oklahoma, answered the distress call of a woman motorist, whose car had stalled. He examined the car and informed her that it was out of gas.

She asked the mechanic, “Will it hurt if I drive it home with the gas tank empty?”

That woman didn’t understand the way that automobiles operate. She was confused as to what powers the vehicle.

It can be that way for each of us today if we don’t understand the Bible teachings.  We can habitually sin in the sight of God and then ask, “God will still let me into heaven won’t he?” Maybe we say, “I’m a good person. God will certainly let me into heaven. Right?” We miss the point of Jesus coming to earth.

Compromise is a tricky thing isn’t it? You’re never quite sure whether you’re going too far or not far enough. The trouble is it’s so important in today’s world. JFK once said "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." Negotiation, compromise, finding the middle ground are the essence of diplomacy aren’t they? What matters to the politician, is finding a politically acceptable compromise.

Of course it’s not only in politics that we find ourselves having to negotiate over truth. Even in religious debate we’re expected to show tolerance and restraint. Some people would have you believe that there’s no room for hard-liners or rigid beliefs even in the discussion of religion.

"Even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!" (Galatians 1:8, 9)

We cringe a little when we hear those words don’t we? Paul is so politically incorrect! How can he be so sure of himself that he’d even call down a curse on those who oppose him? Or was he just having a bad day? Perhaps he’d had a fight with his wife and now he was taking it out on his opponents.

Well, let me suggest that Paul isn’t simply being narrow minded. He isn’t being arrogant in maintaining that he’s right and they’re wrong. Rather he’s standing up for an important principle: he standing up for the principle of truth, Truth with a capital T. He saying there is such a thing as truth and that Truth is not negotiable. You see, you can negotiate a spy release from a foreign territory; you can negotiate the right of Americans to openly carry handguns; you can negotiate American trade agreements. In fact you can negotiate about almost anything in the political arena and so you should. But we mustn’t think we can negotiate about the Truth.

You see the thing that saves Paul from the accusation of arrogance or error in his curse on those who are distorting the gospel is that the message he’s talking about wasn’t just the product of his own personal deliberation. If he’d been preaching a gospel that he’d come to out of his own theological search for meaning, then we’d be quite right in accusing him of arrogance, of being too sure of himself, too intemperate in the way he criticizes his opponents. But this is the message that Christ has entrusted to him. This is the proclamation of God’s gospel for the world. This is a revelation given to him by Christ himself.

Paul’s Gospel was given to him by God. Therefore it is worth defending. The gospel is Truth - God’s Truth! Can YOU handle the Truth? Read the Bible!

Elder’s Corner (#370) – Motives Matter

In human relationships, motives matter.

If someone that you hardly know of the opposite sex begins to send you a gift every week, how does that affect you? If you hardly know the person, a likely first reaction will be, "Why is he (she) sending me gifts?" As you continue to receive gifts week after week, the next likely reaction will be suspicion: "What does he (she) want?" If the gifts continue to come, and you still don't know why you are receiving them, just receiving the gifts can become frightening. You likely will regard receiving a gift as an act of harassment. Gifts received for unknown motives are suspect.

Husbands, suppose we really "outdo ourselves" in being thoughtful, caring, and considerate to our wives, far beyond the bounds of our usual behavior. We know we are in trouble if she reacts to our uncommon consideration and asks, "Just why are you being so nice to me?" She wants to understand the motive behind our behavior. Wives, when (if?) we husbands show extraordinary kindness and attentiveness, what is the first question that enters your conscious thinking? Is it, "What does he want?" or, "What has he done?"

We all have heard, “there is no free lunch”. There always is some ulterior motive. One way or another we will have to pay! In every relationship context, motives are critical. The way we react to other people's actions and deeds will almost always be determined by our perception of their motives.

Human motives are as important to God in our relationship with Him as motives are in our relationship with each other. Jesus gave us a warning: Do not perform godly acts for the purpose of bringing attention and praise to yourself; if you do, that is the only reward that you will receive. (Matthew 6:1)

This warning does not focus on the visibility of our good deeds, but on our personal motives for doing the good deeds. Remember, in this very same sermon, in Matthew chapter 5:16 Jesus has already said, In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Our good works are to be open and obvious - we do not shun visibility. But we are not manipulative in our good deeds; we do not perform them in a manner that promotes self rather than God. If we do good deeds and religious acts to win praise and promote ourselves, the praise and attention that we receive is our reward for what we do, and our only reward. The only reward that we will receive is human praise; there will be no reward from God.

When you give help to a needy person requesting your help, do not give your help in a manner calculated to attract attention to yourself, or act for the purpose of gaining praise from others. To do so is an act of hypocrisy. When you give help to another, do it quietly, in genuine concern for the person as an act of your devotion to God.  People do not have to know what you have done for God to see what you have done.

One of many things neither you nor I can do is accurately determine and judge the motives of another person. God knows my motives, and if they honor him, he accepts them. God knows your motives, and if they honor him, he accepts them.

When it comes to motives, we each are responsible to be aware of our own; we each are responsible to honor our own consciences in a manner that is true to our motives; and we each are responsible not to pass judgment on each other's motives. We must never forget that in godly acts and deeds, motives matter.

Elder’s Corner (#369) – The Road We Travel


Life is full of choices. Just take a moment and think about how many different decisions you made today. What time to get up? What to wear? What to eat? Each day we are confronted with choices. Some of the choices that we make on a daily basis have very little impact on our lives.

Of all the choices that we make, the most critical of all is our decision about God and His kingdom. That is the ultimate choice that determines our eternal destiny. All the other important decisions in life hinge on that choice. It is a decision that Jesus calls on us to make. Jesus said, Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14). In our lives we quickly come to a fork in the road of life. We will be standing at the crossroads where two signs, one pointing to Jesus and eternal life and the other pointing toward a path of destruction. Each of us will have to make our own choice. As we stand at the fork in the road, what will we choose?

The Wide Gate. This gate is wide and easy to enter. Many people will be making the decision to travel this way in life. It is attractive, indulgent, and self-serving. It is tolerant, non-judgmental, and non-offensive. To step through this gate and walk on the easy road requires few if any restrictions or requirements. You can be your own boss, be your own Lord for that matter. Entering this gate will allow you to carry any baggage you want with you. Sin is tolerated. Doctrine is avoided. There is little emphasis on morality and commitment. Those who enter this gate will ridicule those who are squeezing through the other gate. What scares me about the wide gate is that it leads to hell, the sentence of eternal damnation away from God in a burning lake of fire.

The Narrow Gate. This gate is narrow and hard to enter. It is not a popular choice to make. This gate is so narrow that you have to go through it alone. You cannot take anyone else with you. Your husband, your wife, your children, your relatives and friends cannot enter hanging on to your leg. If they would enter they must do so on the basis of their own choice. This gate is also so narrow that you cannot bring your baggage with you. Your sins cannot enter with you. Your pride cannot enter with you. All of your self-accomplishment, influence of money all of it must be left behind if you are to enter the narrow gate. Choosing to leave everything behind and entering through the narrow gate has tremendous blessings but it is hard. It takes commitment, sacrifice, and devotion to stay on the narrow road. However, this road leads to eternal life. Those who squeeze through this narrow gate will enjoy being in the presence of God for eternity.

Life is all about choices and life is about the freedom to make those choices. God loved us enough to allow us to choose which gate we will enter. When you stand at the fork in the road of life, which gate will you enter?

A gate is used for entrance and according to Jesus the entrance to the road to heaven is narrow or small.  That is because He has specified His entrance requirements.  Few will submit to the entrance requirements and few will stay on the narrow way once they have gone through the gate. 

Elder’s Corner (#368) – With My Whole Heart

 A complete lesson could be written on what the “heart” means in respect to the Bible. It could be the organ that pumps life giving blood throughout the body; it could be the mind where all thoughts and understanding is done; it could be the spirit of life that lives within the body. What it is, is not relevant for this article, only that it is the part of each of us that God wants.

When the Jewish leaders asked Jesus which of the commandments of God was the greatest one, it was of real concern to them (Matt. 22:34-40). The Jews had carefully gone through the Old Testament and identified 613 distinct commands God had given to them. They had divided them into positive and negative lists. There were 365 times when God had given a negative (thou shall not) and 248 positive commands.

The answer Jesus gave to them was taken from not one of the Ten Commandments but two commands on which the entire law and prophets were based. The first and greatest thing God had ever said was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

The question is, “How does one do this?” Perhaps the answer lies in the words of David, whose heart was like the heart of God.  By looking at how this godly man talked about using his “whole heart,” we can come to a deeper understanding of the practical application of the greatest commandment God ever gave.

David praised the Lord with his whole heart. Three times in Psalms David said, “I will praise You...with my whole heart” (Psa. 9:1; 111:1; 138:1). One cannot love the Lord with all of his heart unless He uses his entire heart in praising God. God has no delight in worship that is half-hearted.

David prayed to God with his whole heart. “I entreat Your favor with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:58). He also said, “I cry out with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord” (Psa. 119:145). There is a great difference in just saying the words of memorized prayer and praying to God fervently (Jas. 5:16).

David read the scriptures and followed them with his whole heart. Hear his words. “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart” (Psa. 119:2). “With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments” (Psa. 119:10). “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Psa. 119:34).  “The proud have forged a lie against me, but I will keep Your precepts” (Psa. 119:69). David longed to obey God.

Do you want to have a heart like the heart of God? Then let these words from David’s heart become the words of your heart.

When we draw close to God, we draw close to one another. When we have a biblical relationship with God we see past race, color, language, socio/economic barriers and see God’s image and likeness in people. This is why Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is to Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. When we know and love God, we are empowered to know and love one another as we should.

If everyone believed this and if everyone loved God above all, then if everyone looked at one another and saw God’s image and likeness, how would that impact the way we treat one another? Would we not show respect and honor to one another?

As Proverbs 4:23 puts it, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.

Elder’s Corner (#367) – The Providence of God

One of the most deep and thought provoking doctrines taught in Holy Bible is the Providence of God. It is a doctrine that is clearly taught on nearly every page of the Bible, yet it is a teaching that is rejected by many church members, along with the multitudes outside of the church. We constantly hear people in the market place talking about “luck,” “coincidence,” “fate,” or things happening “by chance.” It is not uncommon to hear that sort of speech by those who profess faith in Jesus Christ.

Christian believers hold that God is the creator of heaven and earth, and that all that occurs in the universe takes place under divine foresight — that is, under God's guidance and control through the Holy Spirit. According to believers, God governs creation as a loving father, working all things for good. The Latin root of providential is providentia, meaning "foresight or protection." Providence changed over the years; it usually referred specifically to the care of God, and it was spelled with a capital ‘P’. Providential means, "resulting from God's intervention." But how does God intervine?

Destiny, sometimes referred to as fate, is a predetermined course of events. It may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether in general or of an individual. Traditional usage defines fate as a power or agency that predetermines and orders the course of events. Destiny is also used with regard to the finality of events as they have worked themselves out; and to that same sense of "destination", projected into the future to become the flow of events as they will work themselves out.

Fate defines events as ordered or "inevitable" and unavoidable. Fate is often conceived as being divinely inspired. This is a concept based on the belief that there is a fixed natural order to the universe that cannot be changed. The ancient Greek, Romans, and even the early Norsemen determined that “gods” controlled the individual human fates. Fatalism refers to the belief that events fixed by fate are unchangeable by any type of human action. In other words, humans can not alter their own fates or the fates of others.

Some have brought these “beliefs” into the Christian religion. Some false religions state that some people are selected to go to heaven and others are not. They believe that our eternity is determined even before we are born. This is not true and is NOT taught in the bible. We are held accountable for our own salvation and all people can be saved.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. (Titus 2:11)

In the age of miracles there was no doubt many special providences occurred. Jesus conferred special blessings on certain individuals and groups. The apostles exercised special powers on certain occasions. These miracles did not interrupt the laws of nature. They demonstrated a power of God over and above the laws of nature. These miracles were confirmatory and temporary (Mark 16:20; Ephesus 4:11-13; I Corinthians 13; Hebrews 2:3). God is always present in His laws. What is done through these laws, God does.

Don't forget your worship to God. Don't you dare forget to worship the God that watches over you. Don't forget how to give Him glory. You better know that if God steps back for just a moment, the devil will step in and waste you and everything that you have that God has given to you.

Elder’s Corner (#366) – Demon Possession

Many have wondered whether or not demon (or evil spirit) possession still happens today like it did in the days of Christ and the early church. There were in fact several events referred to in the gospels and a few references in the book of Acts. The subject falls silent toward the end of the book of Acts and there is no mention of demon possession at all in the Epistles. The fact that the ability to cast out demons is not specifically listed as one of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8-11) is conclusive evidence that demons are no longer allowed, by God, to possess the souls of men.

Jesus was, among other things, a famous exorcist, a person who cast demons out of those who were possessed. And it’s a good thing too because it seems that there were demons everywhere in those days. In the gospel stories about Jesus’ ministry, there were demons in every town and city, and in the houses of worship. Everywhere Jesus went, some poor child of God was under the power and sway of a demon.

In all of the documented cases of the casting out of demons in the gospels and in the book of Acts, one of the conclusions that must be drawn is that there are no demons that are more powerful than God. It must be understood now also that the power of demons is limited to what God allows. Since some of the demons, which were allowed to possess individuals, manifested themselves by rendering their victims deaf and/or mute or by some other infirmity, some may be tempted today to believe that those with infirmities are demon possessed.

When a person becomes a Christian, his soul being cleansed by the blood of Christ in the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit indwells him. It is not logical to think that God would allow a demon to possess the body of an individual whose soul houses the Holy Spirit of God. There are no New Testament examples of any Christian being demon possessed. That is not to say, however, that New Testament Christians cannot be influenced by evil. Peter warned the Christians, to whom he wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experience by your brotherhood in the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Even though we are not, in these modern times, subject to demon possession, we all are quite susceptible to the temptation of the devil. So, even though the scenario of demon possession is not applicable today, the principle behind it is applied in that when a person’s soul is freed from sin by the blood of Christ in baptism, that person needs to fill the void with the good work of God in the church in order to keep the devil from re-entering his life. “And the last state of that man is worse than the first.”

It should also be considered that since the age of miracles has ended (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), and the ability to cast out demons is classified in the New Testament as a miraculous ability, then the ability to cast out demons is no longer available to man. Since therefore the ability to cast out demons is no longer available it should be understood that God no longer allows people (Christians or non-Christians) to be adversely affected by demons.

Elder’s Corner (#365) – What Does God Want of Me?

 Before we look at what God wants of me, we need to look at why Jesus came to the earth in the first place.  We are told in the Bible with clarity. Luke 19:10, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." 1 Timothy 1:15, "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Mark 10:45, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many." Then, to show that this has been God's purpose from generations past, Paul quotes from 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy, and Psalms. God's purpose is to be glorified among all the nations for his mercy. First, Paul quotes 2 Samuel 22:50, "I will praise you among the nations and sing to your name." Then, he quotes Deuteronomy 32:43, "Rejoice, O nations, with his people." Then, Psalm 117:1, "Praise the Lord, all nations, let all the peoples praise him."

So why did the most important event in world history happen? The purpose of Christ's coming is that all the peoples of earth might glorify God for his mercy.

  1. Sacrifices: When God established a relationship with Israel, he gave them a list of the sacrifices he required of them. There are numerous passages in Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus which describe those sacrifices. The word “sacrifice” which is found in the Old Testament refers to animal sacrifices. In the New Testament, we are told that the sacrifice God wants is a sacrifice of praise or thanksgiving. In I Thessalonians 5:18, we are called to “give thanks in all circumstances.” This is what God wants of us.
  2. Keep Your Promises: What are the promises or vows that you have made to God? Have you promised to live for God and follow in a relationship to Him? Perhaps there are other vows that you have made in the presence of God. What about the marriage vow that those of us who are married have made? Perhaps during a revival you made a promise to God about how you will live your life.
  • Call Upon The Lord: What did Paul and Silas do in their situation of distress? When Paul and Silas were in prison, Acts 16:25 tells us that “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” James 5:13 invites us, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.”

God invites us to “call upon me in the day of trouble.” That is what God wants of us. He does not want a formalized relationship in which we fulfill duties. He wants a relationship in which we know that we need Him and in which we know Him well enough that we will be free to ask Him for help when we are in trouble.

He wants us to depend on His love to help us when we have times of trouble because He wants to help us and so bring glory to His name. I don’t know about you, but these are things which I gladly do because they allow me to recognize God’s goodness, relate to Him in love and gladly bring honor and glory to Him. Let’s make these things a regular part of our lifestyle.

Elder’s Corner (#364) – The Love of Money

 As American Christians, living in a state where even the government runs ads enticing us to gamble, we need to consider carefully the Apostle Paul’s words, “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Tim. 6:9-10).

Commentators are quick to point out that Paul is often misquoted as, “Money is the root of all evil.” It is not money, but the love of it that is a root of evil. Our money isn’t the problem, but our attitude toward it. We all hear this and exclaim, “Whew! I guess I’m okay, then, because I have the right attitude toward money.”

But not so fast! While money may be neutral, we need to realize that it is dangerous. The reason money is dangerous is the same reason loaded guns are dangerous. Both money and loaded guns can be quite useful in certain situations if you’re careful. There’s nothing I’d rather have than a loaded gun if an angry bear was charging at me in the forest. But even so, I’d better treat it with respect and know how to use it or it could harm me or my loved ones as much as the bear could. Money deserves the same cautions as a loaded gun: If you’re not careful, it can destroy you and your family! Paul is telling us that the desire for money will deceive and ultimately destroy you.

Paul outlines a three step process: (1) The desire for money; (2) The deception of money; (3) The destruction caused by money. The desire draws you in; the deception gets you comfortable and oblivious to the danger; the destruction polishes you off. This pattern is followed in verse 9 and repeated in verse 10 for emphasis:

  1. The desire: The decision to pursue riches is a root sin. “craving money” (v. 9), “love of money” (v. 10);

The goal may stem from a lack of contentment, which in turn may be due to not having the purpose of godliness or the perspective of eternity. It may stem from “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16), which tempt us all. But the love of money is an aim, a goal, a focus.

  1. The deception: The delusion of riches follows the desire. : “fall into temptation” and “trapped by many foolish and harmful desires” (v. 9).

The desire draws you in. If you don’t confront your love of money and yank it by the roots every time you see it spring up in another corner of your life, it will delude you until it takes over and destroys you.

  1. The destruction: The deterioration and demise of the person is the final result: “ruin and destruction” (v. 9), “wandered from the true faith,” “pierced themselves with many sorrows” (v. 10).

People who pursue riches “wander away from the faith.” The picture here is of a person getting lost. No one plans to get lost. It happens when you think you know where you’re going. Often, it’s when you think that getting off the trail will provide a shortcut. But you get deceived and confused. Pretty soon you’re far from where you wanted to be. In the same way, pursuing riches often seems like a shortcut to happiness. But if you go off in that direction, you’ll soon be far from the faith, lost and confused.

Elder’s Corner (#363) – The Tongue

 James 3:1–12 contains the single most sustained discussion in the New Testament on the use of the tongue. The author of this little book is taken to be James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus. It is clear that he is filled with the wisdom of the Old Testament Scriptures and also in the teaching of the Lord Jesus. Both the book of Proverbs and Jesus spoke with clarity about the nature and use of the tongue. James walks in their footprints. Much of what he says is a powerful exposé of the sin and failures in our communication with others.

James says the mature person is to “bridle” his tongue. The person who can do this can master of the whole body. The spiritual masters of the past understood this to have a double reference. The control of the tongue has both negative and positive aspects. It involves the ability to restrain the tongue in silence. But it also means being able to control it in gracious speech when that is required.

But with all of this said, James is forced into a confession. Nobody— except Jesus— has succeeded in mastering the tongue! Our only hope as we pursue the discipline of self that leads to mastery of the tongue is that we are Christ’s and that we are being made increasingly like him. But this battle for vocal control is a long-running one, and it needs to be waged relentlessly, daily, and even hourly.

In James 3:3–5, James uses two commonplace but very vivid illustrations. The tongue is like the bit in the mouth of a horse. This small apparatus controls the enormous power and energy of the horse and is used to give it direction. The point is that there exists extraordinary power and influence concentrated in one small object. So it is with the tongue.

The tongue is also like the rudder in a boat. Large ships were not unknown in the ancient world. The ship that originally was to transport Paul across the Mediterranean in route to Rome held 276 people (Acts 27:37). We know that a large ship in that day could carry a thousand people. Yet such a large and heavy vessel was directed simply by a turn of the rudder!

So it is with the tongue. The tongue is small. But its power for both good and cruel, is all out of proportion to its size. “A fool’s tongue is long enough to cut his own throat” – Bruce Waltke.

Yet there is another side to this, a wonderfully encouraging side. Scripture teaches us that the breath by which we express our deepest desires, instincts, and opinions may produce helpful and pleasing fruit. Our speech can uplift the down trodden, encourage the depressed, and comfort the ailing. We can do many wonderful things with our tongues! How wonderful but deadly organ.

We were created as the image of God to bless God. It is blatant hypocrisy, double-mindedness, and sin to bless God and then casually curse those who have also been made as his very likeness. But the forked tongue of the double-minded person enslaves him or her. He or she thinks the unthinkable and speaks unspeakable contradictions.

James sees that the tongue is an instrument of extraordinary power, out of all proportion to its size. Whatever its true position in the body, its most significant connection is to the heart — whether hardened by sin or restored by grace. Over the tongue comes an outpouring of the heart. Will it reveal love or hate; will reveal peace and joy, or displeasure and discontentment?

Elder’s Corner (#362) - A New Covenant

 Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me,    from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Jeremiah is the only Old Testament prophet to use the term “New Covenant” (that phrase then shows up in Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor.3:6, and four times in Hebrews). Others, Isaiah in particular, refer to a coming “Everlasting Covenant” (Isa. 55:3, 61:8, cf. Jer. 32:40, 50:5; Ezek. 16:60) but there is sense in Isaiah and Ezekiel that it is more of a covenant renewal, not an altogether new covenant, that it is still a relationship between God and the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

From our studies we know that a new covenant is sealed by Jesus Christ through his death and victorious resurrection. Jeremiah and his audience didn’t know what we know. They did not have the luxury of our historical perspective.

The new covenant is something not merely that God proposes, but something that he accomplished. It is the creation of a people for God who will not forsake him. They will be his people and he will be their God forever. The certainty of it lies not in them, but in God's covenant commitment: he says that he will forgive their sins and remember their iniquity no more. And he says that he will write his laws this time not just on tablets of stone, but on tablets of the heart.

Jeremiah is given a proclamation to make, that God will initiate a new covenant with his people. His people had violated their existing covenant. God had bound himself to his people as a husband is bound to his wife. But they had committed spiritual adultery - having relationships with idols and other religions and superstitions. They had bowed to Baal and Asthoreth, to Molech and others.

But in spite of this, God then speaks in mercy and compassion and tenderness. He will not leave his people in this dark place, but will make reconciliation possible, and create a new relationship, after he redeems his people.

Just as Israel and Judah had to experience the pain of exile and find repentance, we too are not exempt from suffering. Jesus never promises we will never experience sorrow or pain, but he does promise that if we follow him in the midst of that, we will remain in him, and not even death can separate us from his love.

We are invited to look beyond our failures, the world’s injustice, corruption and evil, toward Jesus who invites us out of that and into a new and everlasting covenant, and to follow him back into the Promised Land. Because in death Jesus makes it possible to nail our sinfulness to the cross and experience the freedom of walking into a new relationship with God in which he writes his word on hearts and minds, in which we become his people, and in which we have ongoing intimate relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Elder’s Corner (#361) – What Would You Do For …

 If you knew your Christian faith would bring you perfect health and untold wealth, would that make you more faithful?

If you knew that walking closely with God would bring you power and honor and glory and blessing, would you be more motivated to stay obedient and loyal to God?

What benefits from God would it take to make you let go of everything else in this world and cling to and love only Him all the days of your life? What? What could God give you so that you would embrace His salvation and never let go?

Can God buy your love? Can He purchase your heart?

Consider what the Bible promises us. Jesus said, Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.” God didn’t just give us money and things, He gave you His only begotten Son. He gave us His Holy Spirit. He gave us all spiritual blessings. He gave us the promises that we who follow Jesus will be coheirs with Jesus Christ, forever! Jesus even said, “To him who overcomes I will give to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and have sat on my Father’s throne.” Just what is the inheritance of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son? All power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing… for how long? Forever! Will God really bestow all this on His people? Absolutely!

Who will wholeheartedly believe this? Who will give to God their wholehearted devotion? Who will turn from all other suiters and all other idols, casting them all aside and give their whole self only to Him? Who will take the pledge and keep it?

God can and will bless His faithful children. He has all the power to do so, and He owns everything. But will He? Can we trust Him? Yes, we can… the question is: will we? Will we give our lives to Jesus Christ, He who left heaven and came here to call us to Himself, to teach us how to live, to die on the cross to pay for our sins, to rise up from death’s grip and demonstrate God’s power over it, and to promise to return for us and bring us to glory to dwell with Him forever. Will we keep the faith? Will we surrender our whole hearts to Him? The gospel is better news than you or I can even imagine! Its power to save is for those who believe and obey it. Jesus speaks of a great reward, eternal in heaven. He also speaks of a great punishment, everlasting in hell. On a one to ten scale, how much do you believe Him and how much do you love Him?

But sometimes trusting Him completely can be tough. So, each day we must consciously lay aside our own plans and expectations—and surrender to His plans. Surrendering to God begins with our lips and our thoughts. We need more than a commitment to depend on Him; we need to cry out to Him to show that dependence. When we pursue Him, we find life—abundant life. Running from evil and pursuing God doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Instead, it means we have to make a serious change.

Life works best when we remember the true source of our blessings—God—and focus on the things that please Him: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.” (Proverbs 3:7)

Do you put your trust in God? Is He the foundation of your hope? Do you love God above all else?

Elder’s Corner (#360) – Traps We Fall into Concerning Giving

We should never try to impress other people with our giving. If we do we already have our reward. Giving needs to be a private matter. We should not seek recognition for the things we do. Jesus says in Matthew 6:1-4, "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen of them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly." We should seek the approval of God and not the glory of men.

  1. Tithing Trap

Tithing becomes a spiritual trap for us when we believe that God will not be pleased with us until we give 10%. 

The notion of tithing leads some people to conclude that 10% of their money belongs to God and 90% belongs to them. The reality is that God owns everything, we merely manage his property. We brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it.

In Isaiah's day their offerings had become so ritual that God said they were meaningless. In Matthew 23 Jesus condemned the Pharisees for being so preoccupied with the legal tithe that they completely neglected the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness. Paul said, "If I give all I have to the poor, but have not love, I gain nothing." (I Corinthians 13:3)

  1. Insurance Trap

The notion that if you regularly give your money, bad things won't happen to you. In Job 29, the Bible says that Job was a father to the needy, rescued the poor, and took care of widows. He knew the principle of generous giving. Yet we all know what happened to him. Generous giving is not an insurance policy against difficulties and disappointments.

  1. Money for Time Trap

This is the concept that generous giving relieves you from having to give your time. It's often the way that people deal with their guilt for not being involved. Many a parent has bought his child an extravagant gift (out of guilt) to make-up for his absence.

  1. Super Christian Trap

This trap is based on the belief that real generous giving, real sacrifice is for the well-to-do people, not for normal people who are struggling to live. Luke 14:33 - Any of you that are not willing to give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

  1. More Income Trap

This trap assumes that if I made more money, I would be more generous.

Years ago I remember telling God how much I would give Him, if he let me win the Reader's Digest Sweepstakes. I sensed God saying, "Why don't you show me how much you are willing to give out of the money I already let you have?"

The Macedonians had virtually nothing and yet found a way to be generous. In Luke 21 Jesus commend a poor widow who gave two copper coins at the temple. Our income doesn't matter as much as we think.

Christians do more than confess sins, they offer God themselves. We give that God's people may be helped, encouraged and served by our generous giving.

Elder’s Corner - (#359) The Struggle to Have Faith

 One of the ironies in our culture is our sense of control. For decades our culture has declared to us that we can change anything. We can change ourselves! We can change the world! For a long time, we believed we could do anything that needed doing. Want to place an American on the moon? We can do it! Want to bring a crippled space module to earth from the moon? We can do it! Want to replace a diseased heart? We can do it! Want to extend the human life span? We can do it!

Then, abruptly, we were forced to realize our vulnerability and limitations. 9/11 showed us the impossible can happen. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq keep saying that there is a whole world out there that does not think like we think or follow our values. Here, long held jobs disappeared. Here, companies out-sourced jobs to places with cheaper labor. Here, the economy slowed. Here, the price of gasoline increased dramatically. Here, the harder we try to make things secure, the more we are reminded that we are surrounded by insecurity. As we watch, our society is changing in some dramatic ways.

The result: we are increasingly humbled as we realized how little we actually control. More and more we become aware of a truth: Christianity is not about what we can do for God, but about what God can do for us. Our whole understanding of what it means to have faith is changing.

I encourage you to read from Mark 5:25-34. I’ll summarize the story here:

A synagogue official came to Jesus begging him to come heal his daughter who was at the point of death. Jesus agreed to go with the man and heal his daughter. As they were making the trip to the man's house, word came to the man that his daughter had died. Jesus urged the man not to be afraid but to believe, and the trip continued. Some point between the synagogue official's request and the news that the girl died, a sick woman in the crowd touched Jesus. The story now is centered on a woman who had been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years.

She had gone to doctors, suffered through numerous treatments, but no one had helped her. Not only had she not been helped, but: her condition was worse. She was broke and she had nowhere to turn.

She heard about Jesus and the powerful deeds he performed. She was in the crowd and saw Jesus pass by. She believed that just touching his clothing would heal her - amazing when you consider how much failure she endured. The poor woman confronted an enormous risk. She had a hemorrhage, she was supposed (by Jewish Law) to stay at home where she had contact with no one! The key to destroying her disease was touching Jesus! She acted on her faith - she did just as she planned to do! Though this unclean woman touched Jesus, she did not make him unclean - rather he healed her.

There was an incredible difference in touching Jesus in faith and merely touching Jesus. Just as there is in believing Jesus is the Son of God and complete obedience to him. It is very difficult to structure one's life on faith in this society. This culture encourages us to depend on ourselves, not on God. Why is it so hard to live by faith in this culture? We are deceived into thinking that we are in control.

We know too much about depending on people, and too little about depending on God. As a result, when we face a personal faith crisis, we turn to people for answers. We are afraid to trust God for answers. Too often our Lord is inactive instead of alive.

If you do not live by faith, you will never know what faith is. If people do not see you living by faith, they will think the gospel is about an invitation to church instead of an invitation to a life.

Elder’s Corner – (#358) The Bible

The Bible is not just a history book or about things pertaining to a way of life thousands of years ago; it is highly relevant to our lives today and indeed the years to come. Much of the descriptions of events in the Bible are about OUR future. The Bible does give us hope; not in our own ability to repair the damage and restore our world; but in the clear intention of the Creator to provide us with a better place.

The Bible is not about a religion. It features the most gripping love story upon which all true romance is modelled. It describes a plan for a union of the most powerful being imaginable, greater than the universe, creating and wooing an unfaithful lover. The Bible is about a relationship and a romance that is supernatural and yet totally real and tangible. The Bible is about lost people being pursued by a lover who is prepared to give everything, even his own life, to rescue and claim his bride. The story has not yet ended. We are right in the middle of it and approaching the climax of the story.

The Bible is really about one person, God, manifested in human form in the person of Jesus Christ, and his dealings with humanity. Every book in the Old Testament reflect or teach us about Jesus in some way. The Old Testament is mainly about preparation of the world for Him to come the first time. The New Testament focus is on preparing the world for Him to come the second time. Jesus is concealed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament.

For example, in Genesis chapter 1, He is the Light; in chapter 2, He is the Gardener; in chapter 3, He is the Seed of the woman. As we go into Exodus, He is that Passover Lamb. In Leviticus, He is the Great High Priest; and so on. If you read their stories you can see many parallels with Jesus and similar aspects in His life, rejection, deliverance, redemption, healing and miracles. He is present, woven into the very fabric of the Bible culminating in the book of the Revelation where He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is called the Alpha and Omega, and the Beginning and the End.  He is given over 600 different Names in the Bible such as Provider, Counsellor, Lamb, and the Lion.

The most important event in the history of mankind and the focal point of all time was His death on the cross. The Old Testament was preparing the world for that event and from then on we can look back on His sacrifice with gratitude. His death purchased our life. God went to incredible lengths to teach mankind the meaning of substitutionary atonement; that the life of one can be traded for another to put right that which was wrong.

John the Apostle says ‘There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.’ (John 21:25). But he condensed all he felt was needed to convince people that Jesus was the Son of God into a short biography.  He also wrote 3 other short letters of which he said, ‘These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that you may know that you have eternal life.’ (1 John 5:13)

The Bible can be seen as totally trustworthy, believable and factual. There is no deception in it, deliberate or accidental. We look forward to seeing what the Bible has to say about OUR future and how we can prepare for it. Understanding the Bible, for the Christian, is what digestion is for the human body. A person can take in food. But if his body does not digest it properly, the food has no use to him.

Elder’s Corner - (#357) Do Numbers Really Matter to God?

We live in a very analytical society that is concerned with the constant association of numbers and success. Businesses mull over sales quotas and production numbers. When our elected officials talk about the budget, we want to know the numbers. Even in matters of opinion we want to know what the polls say. Our general philosophy seems to be, “If the numbers are up, life is good. If the numbers are down, then something’s got to change!”

Numbers also play a role in the scriptures. The number 40, for example, occurs several times. There were 40 days and nights of rain in the flood (Genesis 7:4, 12); Moses was in Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights (Exodus 24:18); The spies roamed the Promised Land for 40 days (Numbers 14:34); Jesus fasted for the same period of time (Matthew 4:2).

There were also certain specific times in which God was directly concerned with numbers. One such instance was when the children of Israel were coming out of the land of Egypt. The book of Numbers begins with this statement, The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said: “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. God had his reasons.

There was another time, however, when God was displeased with man’s concern for numbers. During David’s reign, he commanded Joab to number the people (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21). It appears that David’s desire was to trust in the numbers instead of trusting in God. After the census was completed, David acknowledged his sin, but the children of Israel were punished with a plague; 70,000 died as a result of David’s lack of faith.

Where do we place our faith? In an article in the “Christian Chronicle,” it was stated that the churches of Christ have failed to keep pace with the population growth in the United States. I’m sure that there will be some who will be alarmed. But why should we be? God doesn’t play by the numbers. With Gideon he took a mere 300 men and destroyed an army of thousands. God populated the world by just two people and then repopulated it again with eight. What about Noah’s record? He failed to keep pace with the population gain of the entire world not just for a few short years, but for 100! Yet, when all was said and done, he and his family WERE the population!

The article also asked the question “Why?” Some speculated, but offered no real answers. No doubt part of the answer is that we’ve begun to trust in numbers instead of trusting in God. When we place our trust in the numbers are we not guilty of the same sin as David? If we are, then we need to repent and change our ways. Regardless of what the numbers say, our job is to put our faith in God because after all is said and done, it is God that gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7, Colossians 2:19). God doesn’t need our numbers to accomplish His will; God doesn’t need us to keep up with the population growth; God doesn’t need us to understand why we haven’t. What God demands is that we stay faithful to Him no matter what (Revelation 2:10).

Elder’s Corner – (#356) Sin in the Christian Era

Most Christians have a good understanding of both the Old and New Covenants, but some assume, that they are now free of any responsibility of any future sin. Although we receive forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, our Christian liberty does not include the right to deliberately, or carelessly live a life of sin. Just the opposite, the Christian is to attempt to live a life that resembles Jesus.

The Mosaic Law consisted of 365 negative commands and 248 positive for a total of 613 commands. These may also be divided into three parts—the moral, the social, and the ceremonial. As such, it covered every possible area of the life of Israel.

The age in which we live, aka the church age, has often and rightly been called the age of grace. This is not because God’s grace has not been manifested in other ages, but because in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ we have the ultimate expression of God’s grace.

The Apostle Paul was speaking to Christians when he said, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming, you used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." (Col 3:5-8).

Since Jesus died for our sins, we are no longer required to keep the Old Testament laws as a way to go to Heaven, but in general conceptual terms, the things that were sins in the Old Covenant, are still sins.

God's people are no longer burdened with the rituals in the "Old Covenant" as a way to enter into Heaven, and it is impossible, by their own power, to live good enough to enter. Entry into Heaven is only through acceptance of Jesus as their savior and obedience to his commandments. “If you love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:15)

Christians obey the commandments out of love, reverence, and respect for their Savior. Our striving to live moral and pure lives is an indication of our love, faith, and devotion to Him.

If we openly and intentionally disobey his commandments, then we are denying Jesus. The fact that we “know” Jesus does not guarantee our salvation; even the demons know Jesus is the Son of God, but refuse to obey him.

There are no less than a dozen times in the New Testament that states that the believer can lose his salvation. Peter, Paul, James, and John repeatedly stated that the church must beware of false teachers “lest they fall”. (read: 2 Peter 2, Acts 20:29, 1 Timothy 4:1, Jude 1:3)

… Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. (Romans 14:13)

In His Great Intercessory Prayer, Jesus had just finished praying for the disciples, and was now praying for those in the future who would believe in Him.  “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. (John 17:20-21).

We enter into the New Covenant by believing in and accepting Jesus as our Savior, God then accepts Jesus death as payment for our sins. He then sees us as He does Jesus, perfect, without sin or blemish.

Elder’s Corner – (#355) The Love of Your Loving Father

 A few years ago, a revelation came to me that I have been clinging to ever since: Jesus wants me to rest in His embrace. I don’t have to get everything just perfect, but I can rest in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. Everything that God has done for us from the beginning of time has all been done out of love for us, so it is only natural for us to love our Creator back.

Jesus commanded us in Matthew 11:28 to “Come to Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.

Jesus lived as an example of this concept during His earthly ministry. He did nothing unless He saw His loving Father do it! (John 5:19) He said, “When you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” When we understand who we are in Christ and put our faith in Him and His finished work on the cross then our souls can find rest.

So when I ask, “Does God love me?” I only have to look to our example of love i.e. Jesus. God’s love is not based on my successes or failures, my stature, or my good works. God loves everyone and does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). So what hinders me from receiving this intimate love relationship with God?

The answer is found in 1 John 1:5-7. “And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” You see, God’s love is unconditional, but our salvation is based on our obedience – walking in the light.

As my sin, pride, self-love, false humility and lack of forgiveness bring darkness into my life, I am separated from God’s presence in my life. I am still loved by God, but I cannot be in His presence. As I am transparent and open with the Holy Spirit, I can rest in His care, but try to hide or cover up my true nature, I have bondage and a loss of intimacy with my loving Father.

This is the truth of the gospel: And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God (Luke 13:3). Jesus Christ longs to shine His light of love into the darkness of our hearts. There is an old Cheerios commercial, “Focus on what is inside of you and begin with your heart”. This simple statement is as if God himself spoke it. In Psalm 139 we are assured that God has perfect knowledge of man. He is familiar with all our ways. Can we not rest in the arms of a loving Father who knows everything about us and who knows our every need? According to Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Elder’s Corner - (#353) Contentment

An airline pilot was flying over the Tennessee mountains and pointed out a lake to his copilot. “See that little lake?” he said. “When I was a kid I used to sit in a rowboat down there, fishing. Every time a plane would fly overhead, I’d look up and wish I was flying it. Now I look down and wish I was in a rowboat, fishing.”

Contentment can be an elusive pursuit. We go after what we think will make us happy only to find that it didn’t work; in fact, we were happier before we started the quest.

I have learned in whatever state I am to be content." This was Paul writing from a Roman prison late in his life, but it was not his original state. Contentment depends largely on the direction of one's focus. Paul's early focus had been on worldly matters among which was pleasing himself, maybe being top dog in the Roman government, persecuting Christians, etc.

Paul did not gain contentment overnight, but after his miraculous encounter with Jesus, his focus changed. You see, Jesus had taken up residence in Paul's heart, and his life was in store for a 180 degree change.

After returning from Arabia Paul was just as diligent and zealous in promoting Christianity as he had previously worked against it. HIs new focus presented adversity and challenges which would have turned some back to their old life-style, but not Paul. God's plan for Paul just about ran the gamut of adversity and persecution — beatings, ship wrecks, near death experiences, imprisonments, stonings, illness, rejection, hunger and thirst and possibly others, but his faith allowed him to consider his adversity as God's perfecting, and maturing process to enable him to carry out God's preplanned mission for him. Paul was "hard-pressed and perplexed" on every side, but his faith enabled him to be able to sit in a Roman prison and say, "I have learned in whatever state I am to be content."

What does contentment mean? The word contentment often means finding happiness with one's situation in life.  But, it is also means finding an inner sense of rest or peace that comes from being right with God and knowing that He is in control of all that happens to us. It means having our focus on the kingdom of God and serving Him, not on the love of money and things. We read from a psalm of David in Psalm 131:1-2,"Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me."

If you are walking with God and you find yourself in a desperate situation, you can know that you are not there by chance. The sovereign God has put you there for your training in faith, that you might share His holiness. It may be a small crisis or a major, life-threatening crisis. Submit to and trust the Sovereign God and you will know the contentment that comes from Him.

Contentment will grow from our humility and trust in God. When we think too highly of ourselves and don't value others as we should, this results in pride. When we allow ourselves to consider others higher than ourselves, we are humble and content with our Lord leading our lives.

May we remember what Jesus said, in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, “I have overcome the world." Let us pray for the faith and strength to be able to say, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances."

Elder’s Corner – (#352) Teaching Unpopular Doctrine

Some questions are difficult to answer, not because the Bible is unclear on a matter, but because there is a strong bias against the correct answer within the culture.

Today, we have no difficulty speaking against idolatry. Even non-Christians understand that worshiping an idol is a worthless effort, just as God said through the prophet Jeremiah, "Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge; Every metalsmith is put to shame by an image; For his molded image is falsehood, And there is no breath in them. They are futile, a work of errors; In the time of their punishment they shall perish" (Jeremiah 10:14-15).

Take the topic of homosexuality. It wasn't more than thirty years ago that homosexuality was generally accepted as immoral behavior. Sixty years ago it was rarely mentioned because everyone understood that it was wrong. Yet today the mere objection to it brings an outcry. We seem to be going down a path where reading some passages from the Bible will bring the threat of a lawsuit, such as Leviticus 20:13 which reads, "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them."

Speaking of evolution is a hot topic. God said to Moses in Exodus 20:11, "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them."  Notice the words "in" and "all".  In six days God created all that was created.  Atheistic man says that life has been evolving on this earth for the past 4.6 billion years, but God says that He completed everything in six days.  Who are you going to believe, God or man?

Our children are constantly being bombarded with this theory in school, on TV, in magazines, etc.  It is presented as though it was true.  If one hears something often enough and long enough one will tend to believe it.  Evolutionists have partly succeeded in passing off their unproven theory as a "proven fact". Genesis 1:12, 21, 24 says, everything was to reproduce "according to its kind".

With all of the amazing wonders of God’s creation, man is still looking for another way it could have happened.  But as Romans 1:20 says, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so they are without excuse."  Because of the wonders of God’s creation, people have no excuse for not believing in God.

The reality, though, is that the Bible is not a document meant to be changed by mankind as they see the need. The Bible is God's covenant with man. Covenants are similar to modern-day contracts. There are terms and conditions which must be met and those term must be fixed else the contract would be impossible to fulfill. The Bible is God's commandments to man. If man accepts the orders of God, there are promises of reward. If man rejects God's rule over his life, there are promises of punishment. Jesus stated, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (Luke 21:33).

The reality is that the writers of the Bible didn't have an option in what they taught or wrote. Paul wrote: "But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12).

Elders Corner – (#351) Restore the Church Building

I can imagine that right now some of you are thinking, “Oh no, David wants another work day.” (Well I do but that is not what I am talking about here today.) In general terms hare are the items to be addressed:

1) There are some things that are broken that need to be repaired.

2) There are some things that are missing that need to be replaced

3) There are some things that don’t belong that need to be removed.

Before you start running through the numbers of our current budget in your head, let me ease your mind, there is no cost for this upcoming renovation… well, not financially speaking. What I am referring to is a spiritual renovation.

As we look at the condition of the Church in America today we see a broken shell of what it originally was. While we all would agree that the Lord’s Church …“the body of Christ”, has many issues that need to be addressed. This church… New Hope Church of Christ is the only one that we can do anything about. And as members of this local assembly it is our responsibility to ensure that we are where God would have us to be… doing what He would have us to do!

And if there are things that are broken, it is our duty to repair them. If there are things that are missing, it is our duty to replace them. If there are things that don’t belong, it is our duty to remove them. Therefore, I submit to you that “It Is Time to Restore our Church!

  • We Must Repair What Is Broken

To repair the church today, we must look at the original blueprints. Everything we need to know about what the church should look like is found in the book of Acts. When you look at the blueprints of the early church you will find that it was built on a solid foundation which is Jesus Christ.

  • We Must Replace That Which Is Missing

The blueprint of the churches show us what has been lost in churches today. Churches today are missing many of the items found in the early church: close fellowship with each other, helping one another, supporting one another, evangelizing, studying the scriptures daily, worshiping of the first day of the week, continuous prayer, fasting, sacrificial giving, and service to God,

III. We Must Remove What Doesn’t Belong

Then there are also some good churches with godly people but certain things have crept into the church that must be removed! Some of these things are: personal agendas, false teaching, traditions, liberalism, fanaticism, laziness, and worldliness.

Many churches today appear to possess these elements but many really don’t. Today many churches are so subnormal that if it ever got back to the New Testament normal it would seem to people to be abnormal. Churches of Christ pride themselves in being like the “first century church”, but many are not. Where is the love for each other? Is worship service a once a week event that breaks up the normal week’s activities? Do we act good and kind toward our brothers and sisters on Sunday, but totally forget about them the other six days? Where is the life?

Look at our church today, we may have the look of a first century church, we may have many of the elements of the early church, but do we have a first century church life? Many denominational churches today are no different than artificial plants. They look real but they are manmade and can produce no fruit. Consider what Jesus said to the Church at Sardis - “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead.


Elder’s Corner – (#350) Church Attendance

Few people will argue that church attendance in many churches in America is declining. Most of us have our own ideas why attendance is declining. Many have suggested that our nation is shifting away from its Christian roots, and thus the churches are declining as a smaller proportion of our country are believers in Christ.

I certainly will not argue with that premise. Certainly church attendance decline in America is related to cultural shifts in our nation. But I would also suggest that one reason for declines has a greater impact than others. I’ll get to that later.

First, why is church attendance, or “going to church” important?

The Bible tells us we need to attend church so we can worship God with other believers and be taught His Word for our spiritual growth. The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). We should follow that example of devotion—and do the same thing. Back then, they had no designated church building, but “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). Wherever the meeting takes place, believers thrive on fellowship with other believers and the teaching of God’s Word.

Church attendance is not just a “good suggestion”; it is God’s will for believers. Hebrews 10:25 says we should “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Even in the early church, some were falling into the bad habit of not meeting with other believers. The author of Hebrews says that’s not the way to go. We need the encouragement that church attendance affords.

Church is the place where believers can love one another (1 John 4:12), encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13), “spur” one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), honor one another (Romans 12:10), and be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32).

When a person trusts Jesus Christ for salvation, he or she is made a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). For a church body to function properly, all of its “body parts” need to be present and working (1 Corinthians 12:14–20). It’s not enough to just attend a church; we should be involved in some type of ministry to others, using the spiritual gifts God has given us (Ephesians 4:11–13). A believer will never reach full spiritual maturity without having that outlet for his gifts, and we all need the assistance and encouragement of other believers (1 Corinthians 12:21–26).

For these reasons and more, church attendance, participation, and fellowship should be regular aspects of a believer's life. Weekly church attendance is in no sense “required” for believers, but someone who belongs to Christ should have a desire to worship God, receive His Word, and fellowship with other believers.

Now that we see the importance of “going to church”, why don’t people go? I think the answer is simple enough – they don’t think it is necessary for them to go. If we are sick and don’t go to church, no one considers that is bad – in fact others expect it. After all we don’t want to make them sick.  If we go to church 7 times out of 10 opportunities, we feel that we are doing our part and we are “faithful” members. There are times when we just don’t feel like going. We are tired and just not motivated to attend. Maybe a relative or close friend has arrived and we feel “obligated” to stay with them.

Except for the first example above, the excuses are all based on one central figure, ME. We are not thinking of the brothers and sisters who are expecting us to be there. They are eagerly meeting at church to be with their family and you chose not to be there. The fellowship of members suffer. The singing suffers. The service suffers - all because you don’t want to go.  It is all about you. Believe it or not, YOU suffer by not attending. Where is the love for God come in? Where is the love of others come in?

The church service is called “Worship Service” for a reason. God is the focal point of this gathering. It is a time to worship God. That is the purpose! It not about you. It is not about how you feel. It is all about celebrating our love toward God.

Elder’s Corner – (#349) Legalized Gambling

 The gambling laws in the US have been criticized by the immoral minority for years and now it seems that these people are going to get their way.

The Supreme Court on May 14th struck down a federal law barring sports gambling, in a decision that could soon lead to legalized sports betting in dozens of states. The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.  The 1992 law had barred gambling on football, basketball, and baseball. The Supreme Court ruling now gives states the go-ahead to legalize sports betting if they want. Many states already have legalized casino wagering.

It seems that there is a lot of talk recently about changing laws in the U.S., but no one is talking about the moral issues. Is gambling acceptable to God? Of course not! What has happened to the moral majority – does it exist today?

Philippians 2:3-5 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,

Can a Christian follow what Paul has just said by gambling knowing that that they are taking other people’s money? Surely we can see that gambling violates this passage. How can a person say that they are looking out for the interest of others while trying to win their money from them? They cannot. We are to have the same mindset as Jesus. Now I want you to picture in your mind Jesus playing the slot machine or playing poker for money or throwing the dice and saying come on lucky number 7. Can you see Jesus wasting his time gambling with his money? If you can’t see Jesus doing it and we are to be like him, then how can a Christian be involved in gambling?

According to Gamblers Anonymous there are least 12 million compulsive gamblers in the US right now. The average compulsive gambler has debts exceeding $80,000. And this figure does even come close to the social costs that come about because of family neglect, embezzlement, theft, and involvement in organized crime. One New York lottery agent stated, "Seventy percent of those who buy my tickets are poor, black, or Hispanic with no hope if improving their lives without winning the lottery."     

2 Peter 3:12-14 looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.

You see, there is a hope of a better day, a better life. Money is not going to improve your life, not now, not in the future, not in eternity. A Christian can have a better life without gambling. God will provide to you what you need.

The drug laws are also under heavy criticism by those who want marijuana legalized. Expect the Supreme Court very soon to make a change in the legalization of marijuana and other “socially acceptable” drugs. Another law will soon change that will legalize prostitution in the U.S. – why? – because the people want it!

But, remember this: just because it is legal to gamble, do harmful drugs, or participate in prostitution, does not mean you have to do it. Just do what is right! Continue to fight the good fight. A better place is waiting for you.

Elder’s Corner – (#348) Fake News

The elections have come and gone, but fake news stories continue to proliferate on social media. Indeed, they are often shared more than real news is. Fake news is harmful. Many untrue stories are believed by the people who post them. Sometimes a story that was intended as satire circulates as fact. Others are deliberately deceptive. If you have a society where people can't agree on basic facts, how do you have a functioning democracy?

Combating the spread of false stories is important but difficult. The obvious solution - fact-checking - is ineffective: Many fake news listeners are suspicious of mainstream media and dismiss them as partisan and deceptive. Any statistics or evidence that counter their beliefs is dismissed, even if true.

People share news (real or fake) when it agrees with their views. One would think that given a truthful news story or a fake one, that the real news would be preferable. But fake news thrives today, frequently surpassing real news in its acceptance.

Newscasters that daily report fake news are much like denominational preachers who preach falsehoods declaring them as acceptable to God. If we blindly accept fake news, then are just as likely to believe in religious error. Mankind is basically lazy. It is easily to believe a lie than it is to dig through the garbage and find the truth. It is easier to go with the majority views than it is set out and seek the truth.  It may be difficult for us to examine every piece of news we hear to determine if it is true or not.  We should be aware of WHO we listen to. We should examine the MOTIVES of those telling us the news, just as we need to determine WHAT to believe.

God says in Hosea 4:6, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."  If we don’t know what God says, we are going to be destroyed or lost for our lack of knowledge.  It is sad to say but the vast majority of people are illiterate of God’s word.  They don’t really know what the Bible says.  When we don't know God's will then false doctrines will arise which will cause us to be eternally lost.

When people are ignorant of God’s directions on how He is to be worshipped, they wander in spiritual darkness.  Our Lord says in Matthew 15:14, "And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch."  We must first have a desire to know the truth of God's will and then be willing to change when we find we are wrong and are not worshipping according to His truth.  Jesus says in John 8:32, "And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."  Only the truth can make us free, otherwise we are still under the bondage of sin.  We may be sincere in our worship, and we must be, but if we do not worship God "in truth", that is as God directs, then our worship will be vain and unacceptable to God.

When we follow the fake teachings of men instead of God’s instructions, our worship becomes useless.  If our worship is useless, it is empty, hollow, and in vain.  It will do us no good.  If it is not in truth, it would be as though we had not worshipped God at all and we will be lost.  When we worship in the way "we want" then God is dishonored and insulted.  When we worship the way God has told us in His word, God is honored and glorified. Any worship that is not authorized by God's word in the Bible, is not in truth and is vain.  Seek the truth!

Elder’s Corner – (#347) Watercooler Discussions

You may have stood around a watercooler at work and talked about something that has happened recently, or maybe told some article you recently read. Maybe you sat around a lunch table talking about some funny story you heard. These stories, serve to entertain, amuse, and pass the time. They are funny, horrifying, or just plain interesting. These stories, when properly arranged and told well, are simply irresistible.

Many times the subject matter becomes about politics or a law that someone is trying to pass. These discussions often become divisive, argumentative, or at least disruptive. Friends, co-workers, and close personal relationships in general can be destroyed by such discussions. But rarely one’s political view is changed in such debates. So then, why do we participate in such discussions? Should we?

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. (2 Timothy 2:23-24)

When we find ourselves in discussions about any divisive subject, we should remember these verses. We should not allow ourselves to be drawn into an emotional or slanderous dialog.

What should we do when the topic is religious in nature? Should we participate or walk away?

Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.  Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:13-15)

As I stated before, these open dialogs usually do not change anyone’s opinions or beliefs. However, if a person is truly seeking the truth, it may become a perfect time to invite them to a bible study. We need to have a discussion that is truthful and free from emotional outburst. Respect the other’s belief and listen to them. Most people do not like to have someone to tell them they are wrong. Let the Bible speak for itself.

Have you ever been angry when suddenly you have an opportunity to speak for Christ? Where you prepared? Or have you ever been having a bad day and missed an opportunity to provide a word of encouragement to a friend? You probably didn’t even notice the need, let alone respond appropriately. But if you are prepared, you’re ready to serve the Lord in any good work that He sets before you. Be prepared, and be alert to the opportunities presented to you, wherever you are.

We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5; See also Acts 18:28)

Watercooler discussions can be entertaining and even educational. Many of these stories have good moral endings. But when the emotion rises and the words become a bit loud, it is time to move on and get back to work.  Seek opportunities to teach the truth, but build relationships and not destroy the ones we already have.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:3)

How good and it is when one gets outside of their selves and become sympathetic and compassionate toward others, living in harmony with them. This causes blessings to flow into my life and others’ lives as well.

Elders Corner - (#346) Feeling Good About Yourself

Our attitude toward others is often a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. One author described it this way: “We are never more discontented with others than when we are discontented with ourselves.” Most will admit that we tend to feel better about others when we feel good about ourselves.

There is nothing inherently evil about a good self-image. While self-centeredness must be avoided, there is a vast difference between self-centeredness and good self-esteem. God created us to feel good about ourselves within the parameters of our relationship with Him. He sent His Son into the world so that we might have opportunity to live “the full and abundant life” (Jn. 10:10). God does not rejoice in our failings or find some sort of pleasure every time our feet get knocked out from under us and we find ourselves bruised and battered by life’s challenges. Quite to the contrary, God hurts when we hurt. Being the perfect reflection of the Father (Heb. 1:3), Jesus is our great high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses and “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

The surpassing love of God, as revealed in Scripture, shows us that He has nothing but our best interests in mind. His word is a blueprint for living a joyous life and entertaining a strong hope for the hereafter. The “do’s and don’ts” of the Bible are intended to bring happiness, not pain. For the people of old, God clarified His purpose for giving them His law, asking them “to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Dt. 10:12). Every parent knows the meaning behind the words: “for your own good.” As children, we may have tried to bend the rules now and then only to discover, in the long run, that they had, indeed, been given for our good and ultimate happiness. Be assured that every command of the Lord has been given for our happiness both now and forever.

As much as anything, the instructions of God, as provided in His inspired word, ought to provide us with a sense of security and well-being. Our Father in heaven cares enough for us to set boundaries. When we follow His teaching, good feelings are produced. Many have made the mistake of turning things around by insisting that one must feel right in order to do right. But, actually, there are many occasions in which we must do what is right and trust that the feeling will follow.

We are created in the image of God. He loves us so much that He gave us the gift of His Beloved Son so that we might entertain a strong hope of living forever in His glorious presence. Such thoughts as these will influence the way we feel about ourselves and those around us. A sense of His great love frees us from self-hate and stirs within a genuine sense of good will toward others.

In the end, loving yourself is not about tooting your own horn or conforming to the world’s view of self-esteem. It’s about being who you are—a unique child of God—and knowing that who you are is a good thing. When you understand your eternal worth and you live in a way consistent with your divine heritage, you will gain a lasting self-esteem that is better than anything the world can offer.

Elder’s Corner (#345)  - Thank God for Challenges!

You can call them whatever you want, but they are part of our lives and the life of the church. Some view them as grave problems. Others see them as insurmountable obstacles, certain defeats, or reasons to give up, but when viewed through the eyes of faith they are simply challenges on the road to heaven.

Thank God for challenges because they teach us to rely on Him. Every reader has one of the “insurmountable obstacles” in his life now or one which will soon be there. We never want them, but they are simply part of life. We need to have an appreciation for them because they help us realize just how weak we are. If we were stronger, we could “fix” them and they would cease to be problems. However, the truth is that such trials force us to admit our weakness and turn to God. Perhaps Paul said it best, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). That last phrase sums it up best—when I am weak, then I am strong.

Thank God for challenges for they strengthen our souls. The strongest oak is not the one which is nurtured in a greenhouse environment, but one that grows in the open where it battles against the storms around it. The same is true of Christians and the “storms” in their lives. Here is the way God describes trials, “The testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:3-4). The way to full maturity (perfection and completion) is to travel the road of adversity.

Thank God for challenges because they give us a sense of certain victory. We may not win every individual skirmish but the bottom line is that we are winning. Each of us has come a long way in our walk with the Lord and though it has at times been trying, we are better people now than we were before. This is because we are overcoming our encounters with adversity. Look back at your life. You are winning! There are challenges ahead, but you have been winning and with God’s help you will achieve victory!

Thank God for challenges because they give us purpose. If there were no challenges, no difficulties, in our lives, there would be no reward and sense of satisfaction. Our primary goal is to learn from our mistakes and experiences, so we can grow in our faith and practice for His glory.

Thank God for challenges because they make us humble. We need to be humble, but how do we develop a character of being humble? Have you heard someone say, “He needs to be knocked down a peg.”? Sometimes we feel too confident, too proud, too important and we need to be “knocked” down a bit. Sometimes failures can produce good results. It is a way that God lets us know that we are not in control and that what we have are nothing but “blessings from above”. Humility is not a sign of weakness, timidity, or fear; it is an indication that we know where our true strength lies. We can be both humble and fearless. We can be both humble and courageous.

Now think about the challenges around us and how God is working through us to become victorious. Challenges are designed to make man the kind of person that he was created to be. Challenges make men turn their backs on the world, and to live for God. Have you begun to accept His challenges?

Elder’s Corner (#344)  – Why the New Hope Church of Christ May Not be for You

We may tell others that our church is the best around. We may even invite others to church telling them that they will enjoy our worship service. If they do come, they may be disappointed and not return. Why? Good question! Believe it or not New Hope is NOT for everyone.

If you go to church to have an emotional experience i.e. clapping, shouting, and jumping to the sounds of a band, New Hope is not for you. For it is written: "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord." (Eph. 5:19) There is no command or example that suggests instruments are acceptable to God during worship.

If you want a church where women are able to preach, teach, pray, serve on Lord’s Table then New Hope is not for you. Churches of Christ forbid women from leading public worship when grown men are present. Women are not allowed to serve as elders, deacons, or preachers. (See 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.)

If you want a church where you don’t have to be baptized to be saved, then New Hope is not for you. We believe that being baptized is by immersion only (Acts 8:36-38). Baptism can take place in any suitable body of water allowing total immersion, and may be administered by any member at any time of the day or day of the week. (Acts 2:38)

If you want a church where members are speaking in tongues, or have some great healing power of an evangelist, or are able to speak to the dead, then New Hope is not for you. We do not believe supernatural miraculous events (healing, speaking in tongues, etc.) occur in the current times. We believe that these gifts died with those that were given supernatural Spiritual gifts during the time of Jesus and the apostles. Though prayer we can ask God to perform miracles today – “with God all things are possible”. (Matt 19:26)

If you want a church where you can “pick and choose” whatever parts you like and ignore those parts you dislike or don’t want to believe, then then New Hope is not for you. The Bible was written by men who were inspired and guided by God the Father through the Holy Spirit. We believe in "complete" inspiration, whereby the inspired author is able to use his language to express divine truth, but the ultimate truthfulness is from God. (2 Timothy 3:16)

If you believe that all people everywhere are saved, or that there is no Hell, or even if there is no Heaven, then New Hope is not for you. We believe that salvation is the exercise of free will – those who freely choose God's way through Christ are adopted as sons and daughters by the Father and therefore saved, all others are lost. This decision can be changed based on the believer's behavior – he or she can consciously elect to cease following Christ and hence be lost ("fallen from grace"). God's sacrifice of Christ provided sufficient grace to save all persons from their sins, but it is incumbent upon them to accept Christ's will and follow Him (James 1:25; Romans 2:2-3; Hebrews 6:5-6). The "lost" will be condemned to an eternity without God. (Matthew 10:28; 23:33)

So if you aren’t looking for this type of church, then maybe New Hope Church of Christ is not for you. But, if you are seeking the truth about God and your salvation, bring your Bible and come for that visit you've been thinking about. We'll save you a seat.

Elders Corner  (#343) - Are Good Morals Enough?

Some believe that all there is to being a Christian is simply being a good moral person. Many believe that as long as you are honest, pay your debts, take care of your family, be a good citizen, and maybe give to a charity once in a while, that this is all God requires. There is something praise worthy to be said about people that are morally good and upright; for many have left even that. However, though moral goodness is necessary to be pleasing to God, being a Christian requires more than moral goodness.

The fact that moral goodness does not save can be seen in the New Testament example of Cornelius. The Scriptures tell us that Cornelius was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). Here was a good moral man by anyone’s standard. But Cornelius was not saved as a result of his moral goodness; for he was told to send for Peter at Joppa that he might come and tell him words by which he and his household might be saved (Acts 11:13-14). It was only when Cornelius heard and obeyed the gospel of Christ, being baptized, that he was saved (Acts 10:48).

There are many good moral people who don’t have any spirituality about them. There are a lot of folks who are good, honest people, who have never submitted to God’s will and are not interested in worshipping and serving Him. It is no wonder that Jesus declared, “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

If good morals were all that God required for salvation, then Jesus would not have had to die. But good morals do not wipe away one’s sin, the blood of Jesus does that, and one must come to it through repentance and baptism (Rom. 6:3-5, Gal. 3:26-27). Thus, good morals are not enough, we must submit to God and receive pardon for sin that only He can give.

The problem with saying man evolved ethics and morals is that each person would view “right and wrong” a little differently. Adolf Hitler thought what he was doing was “right”. He thought he was perfecting the human race, and in the process he murdered millions of Jews. What may seem right to you may seem wrong to me. Humans would constantly be changing what they felt was morally acceptable.

The book of Judges describes a time when there was no leadership in Israel:  In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25). There was no standard for living. The Jews tried to co-exist with the Philistines and often accepted their beliefs and way of life. Idols sprung up to worship false gods. God was not pleased and sent men and women to lead His people away from sin.

Man needs to adopt God’s standard for right and wrong. Morals provide strong evidence for an undeniable Creator. God’s unchanging nature allows our morals to be recognized as absolute standards for all situations. Only God is eternal (Psalm 90:2; 1 Timothy 1:17). Only God is holy (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). Only God is just and righteous ((Psalm 89:14). And only God is forever consistent (Malachi 3:6). Only a righteous and holy God can judge others fairly.

We should give attention to the very existence of the current moral code mankind has adopted. And rather than trying to embrace a Godless theory and live a life based on our society’s culture, maybe we should recognize there is a standard to conduct ourselves. Solomon summed it up well when after tasting all life had to offer he concluded that the whole duty of man was to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Elder’s Corner (#342) – Just Say No!

Just say no.” In 1982 First Lady Nancy Reagan uttered those three words in response to a schoolgirl who wanted to know what she should say if someone offered her drugs. The first lady's suggestion soon became the rally cry for the adolescent drug prevention movement in the 1980's and beyond. Since then, schools around the country have instituted programs designed to discourage alcohol and drug use among youth—most of them targeting older elementary schoolchildren and a few addressing adolescents. Despite this fanfare, research data indicate that the program does little or nothing to combat substance use in youth. Why?

The assumption of the slogan was that kids could simply say “no” whenever faced with temptation. Is that true? Can we simply say “no” whenever we are tempted? Kids have little “will power” as do most adults. Again, I ask, why?

There is a significant difference between a believer and an unbeliever who tries to answer this question. An unbeliever is utterly stuck in sin. Granted, the unbeliever can clean up a behavior he views as wrong, but is that really house cleaning? Such “cleaning” is no more than moving piles from one room to another so the guests can’t see the mess.

The problem is that kids and many adults try to fight the temptations of the world on their own. Nancy Reagan’s slogan demonstrates this. The belief was that kids can do this on their own. Man simply does not have the means by which to consistently overcome sin because he or she does not have the Spirit of God in them. But the one who has come into a right relationship with God and who has been indwelt by the Spirit of God has been given whatever is needed to overcome temptation.

Jesus said, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34). Self-denial is one of the most basic attributes of Christianity. Yet, it is one of the most difficult to attain. One reason for that is that it requires great strength of will.

Man has a great problem mastering himself. Those who willfully engage in sin have not learned to control themselves. Those who are overcome in a moment of temptation have a problem (at least for the moment) with self-control. When we get angry and let our tempers flare and our words fly, our character is then flawed due to not practicing self-discipline. We exhibit a lack of will power when we overeat, are lazy, or are addicted to alcohol, tobacco or some other drug. Thus, mastering self requires constant work for all of us. The difference in us is that we may need to work on it in different areas of our lives.

So how should we cooperate with what the Holy Spirit is trying to do to protect us from the evils of the world? Galatians 5:16 offers a straightforward answer: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Walking by the Spirit and carrying out the desires of the flesh are mutually exclusive ideas; you are either walking by the Spirit or carrying out the desires of the flesh. You can’t do both at the same time. In short, you need to learn how to walk in the Spirit.

For the new Christian overcoming the temptations of the world will be a difficult step – if not impossible. But, we must remember we are growing in Christ no matter how long we have been saved. Each day is a challenge in the fight against sin. Each day we should become closer to perfection. Each day we should fight the battle and rely on the Spirit to provide the strength and encouragement to win.

Elder’s Corner (#341) – Tale of Two Churches

Let me tell you about two churches that I once attended. Both of these bible-belt churches of Christ were in the 400 to 500 member range when I first visited. The first of the churches (I will call Church X as not to embarrass them in anyway) was located near the center of the city and was service oriented and lead by 5 wise elders. Church Y was located in the suburbs in a very affluent area – an area where the city was expanding at a very fast rate.  

Church X had been given a large, but old building located adjacent to the church property. This building had 5 bedrooms, a couple of baths, kitchen, a large dining room and living room. The house needed painting and some minor repairs.

Church Y was a fast growing church. They had at the time I first visited, about 500 members and 6 elders and within a year was up to 750 members and 10 elders. This church was aggressively seeking new members. They used radio and TV; they used monthly newsletters sent out in the mail to all homes in the area; and they followed up with door knocking.

Church X did not have the rapid growth that Church Y did and it was thought that the problem was its location in the old part of the city.  But they found themselves blessed with a house and they sought ideas on what to do with it.  The elders decided to make it a “widows home”. The men of the congregation made repairs and upgrades to the home. The church then opened to the widows of the congregation at a price they could afford – each according to their ability. 

Church Y continued to grow in number and the contribution grew proportionally. The elders looked for way of using the money to best spread the gospel. They hired a second minister and a full time building and grounds maintenance person. They continued to grow and before you could realize it, they grew more than 1500 members. Church X showed minor growth.

Soon Church X came to the realization that their little “widow’s home” was a great success. It was completely self-sufficient and the widows loved it.  Church X in an attempt to meet the demand, decided to raise money and build another building for widows and unwed mothers. They built an apartment building with over 50 rooms.

Church Y grew rapidly and found that even with 2 services each Sunday morning, they could not handle the crowds. The elders decided to buy another piece of property and build a new building – which they did. They spent millions dollars on this building. The debt became too much for the church and members felt pressure to pay the off the loan.  Soon members started to leave. Eventually the bank had to foreclose on the church.

Church X however was beginning to grow. People realized that this church was interested in helping others. The money contributed, was used wisely. The church built another building and then another until they had 6 apartment buildings. Each was well kept - for they hired several needy families to clean and maintain the buildings. They hired many unemployed individuals who were down in their luck but willing to work. Church X grew rapidly now, but instead of buying property and building a new glamorous facility, they started new smaller churches in the area - each had their own minister and leadership. They urged some families to leave and attend services at these new churches.

Church X never lost sight of what was important – helping others. Church Y spent all their efforts focused on growing the church and used their success in obtaining physical things. Let us at New Hope never forget the purpose of the church. Let us continue to show love and mercy to those in need. Let’s lift up those that truly need a second chance. By doing so God will bless us.

Elder’s Corner (#340) – Finding Happiness

"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Abraham Lincoln

Life is tough! The rich get richer, the “have’s” get more, and the “have-not’s” only get more problems. When we desire more, there is more to desire. Life seems to be an unending cycle of desire: want → work hard → want more → work longer and harder → displeasure.  It is not unexpected that people suffer depression, break downs, anxieties, and even suicides. Some people though, seem to be happy and content all the time – even in the most difficult times. Why is this?

Do we seek advice from a neighbor, or psychologist, or drinking buddy? Does happiness comes from a psychoanalysis of oneself, or do we find a crutch to lean on such as alcohol or drugs? Do we find happiness in doing nothing, sleeping, lying on the beach, or escape with a book?  If so, why doesn’t it seem to last more than just a day or two?

Are you happy? Truly happy? Have you found the joy that is found in Christian fellowship? Christianity contains the keys to true happiness during our earthly existence. It is only in a relationship with God that we can find true inner peace and rejoice in the blessings of God. Because of a deep, abiding trust in God, the Christian can truly be happy in life, even while dealing with problems, setbacks, and trouble. Those who live with a strong faith in God have a source of strength and delight that those outside of Christ have a hard time in understanding. Solomon wrote, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart  and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6). Trust in God is directly related to genuine happiness.

True happiness is found in righteous living. If we have fully given ourselves to Christ and are committed to serving Him it will be seen in our godly conduct. We will be devoted to filling our minds with good and wholesome things (Philippians 4:8). We will want nothing to do with behavior that can shackle us with guilt and regret. Paul wrote, "It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly desires, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age" (Titus 2:12).

True happiness is found in contentment. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence! We may fret and complain more than we care to admit. We may gripe about our job, spouse, the weather, politics, the temperature of the room, and a host of other things. When griping, we may forget about the blessing we have. We could always live somewhere where the weather is worse, or survive in a place without climate controlled amenities. A contented person is a happy individual! Without contentment, joy is only superficial.

Finally, true happiness is found through our busy activity. When we are idle, it can stir up displeasure, restlessness, and mischief. Happiness comes to the person who works persistently, consistently, and with diligence. Think of the inward pride that can be generated through seeing a project completed. And, while we are busy it will keep our mind off things that are negative and inwardly destructive. Let us be busy with good things, wholesome things that will improve our spiritual and physical lives.

While the world seeks happiness in wealth, physical appearance, material possessions, and fleshly gratification, the Christian understands that true happiness is found in the spiritual. Where is your focus in life? If we will learn to shift the focus off of the seeking happiness in the physical we’ll be amazed at how true joy and happiness will fill our lives! "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:1-2).

Elder’s Corner (#339) – What Should I Wear?

Our society has undergone a transformation in apparel in recent decades. Some elements of clothing are always in flux: hemlines, necklines, lapel and tie width, colors, etc. And it should go without saying - though we occasionally need to say it - that our clothing choices as Christians should not highlight the sensual no matter the venue.

Then again, why do we pull out our best clothing each Sunday in preparation for attending services? Many of us have our "Sunday Best" – those outfits reserved for Sundays and other special occasions. The thought of attending services in anything but our best clothing is so repulsive that many people would rather miss service than to show up in anything less than suitable.

Then there are those men who actually seem to dress down for church. Their shirts are open exposing a dirty undershirt, the shirt itself is not tucked in, the pants are dirty and have holes in them, no belt, the pants droop down and you wonder how they remain up. When you see them at work or at the mall, they don’t look that bad. More than likely their favorite quote from the Bible is “just come as you are”. (This is not even a quote from scripture.)

Why do we have such traditions? Frequently, we hear that we need to "give our best to God." I tried to find this phrase in the Scripture, but it doesn't exist. It seems to be based on some of the principles in the Old Law which regulated sacrifices. In Deuteronomy 17:1, the Israelites were told to offer up the best of his flock as a sacrifice. A true sacrifice involves giving up something that we care about. It shows God that we care for Him more than any material possession.

God has not set a standard for the quality of our attire. Some don't mind that a few cannot afford good clothes, but ... "at least wear the best that you have" or "at least wear clean clothes to church.” However, take a look at James (James 2:1-4). The poor man in the example came in "dirty clothes" (NASB), "shabby clothes" (NIV), or "filthy clothes" (NKJV). Read John 7:24 Stop judging by mere appearances, ... Jesus said that judging by appearances was wrong. It is wrong to judge a man by just what we see and it is wrong to judge a man by just what he wears.

Being poor is not shameful. We can be short on funds, but rich in spirit (Revelation 2:9). Yet, people insult the poor when they require a minimum standard for attire in the worship service. Don't they realize that the poor will find their way to God before the rich? God has chosen the poor, so that no one can find cause to boast (I Corinthians 1:26-31). God promised to treat us as we have treated others (Luke 6:37-38). What awaits those who exclude Christians from participation in the worship because they think their attire is not satisfactory?

Social concern is a strong motive in regulating our dress in worship. How we are perceived by the world, and the impact we may have on fellow worshipers, are crucial matters. Should I not choose to dress in less than “my best” in order to accommodate those who have less? Social consideration has a strong bearing on our choices and is not to be ignored. “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Cor. 9:22).

If Christians are to exhibit Christ in their lives, then before they leave the house, they need to look in the mirror and hold a Bible right next to them and ask, “Is this acceptable to God?”

Elder’s Corner (#338) – Five Misconceptions about Our Salvation

Misconceptions of God can be costly, because they can be very defeating. For example, it’s agonizing to me how many people think “Cleanliness is next to godliness” comes from the pages of Scripture. And what about “God helps those who help themselves”? These sayings are in the Bible. We are confused with “old” sayings that just are not true. Here are five more.

  1. We cannot know exactly when we were actually saved.

We are saved when we are baptized. I am sure that none of us can remember the moments surrounding our birth. We have a birth certificate that tells us all the pertinent information of our birth. But, we don’t a need a “certificate of baptism” stating the date and place we were baptized (born again). With our limited memory, it is easy to forget when and where we were saved, but we should be able to remember that we were baptized into Christ.  (Another reason to be baptized as an adult and not a child.)

  1. If you want to be saved, just invite Jesus into your heart.

Well-meaning people often use the phrase “invite Jesus into your heart.” They often base this on Revelation 3:20 where we’re told, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” With the phrase “stand at the door and knock” in mind, many picture the heart as a door where Jesus stands begging us to let Him in. Therefore, the lost are exhorted to “invite Jesus into their heart.” Jesus said to Nicodemus, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

  1. When you miss an opportunity to share Christ with someone, it’s your fault if that person goes to hell.

When they do practice it, they often do it out of guilt, not love. One reason people feel guilty is because they’ve been told that if they’re given an opportunity to share Christ but if they don’t take it, they are forever responsible if that person goes to hell. This false teaching is often based on the misuse of Ezekiel 3:18-19. John 6:44 reminds us, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” We can eagerly do it recognizing that God is not holding me responsible for the results.

  1. If you come to Me, I want either all of your life or none of it.

There are those who exhort, “You can’t meet God halfway. If you want to come to Christ, you must completely surrender to Him. He’s going to get all of your life, or He doesn’t want any of it.” We all sin, before we were saved and after. The question is what do we do if we sin after our baptism? When we speak to the lost about Christ, we should explain that salvation is with baptism, but obedience is a continuing process. Once they decide to trust and believe in Christ for salvation, wholehearted surrender and growing Christ-like, becomes a goal to achieve with the help of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of believers.

  1. You can be saved even if you do not confess Christ is the Son of God publicly.

Prior to baptism, we make the confession that Jesus is the Son of God. That confession is the rock in which the Church is built on (Matthew 16:18). In Matthew 10:32-33, Christ declares, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” We should not deny Christ in our lives, but be proud that we are part of the “chosen” people of God.

Elder’s Corner (#337) – Good Deeds Not Accepted Here

Have you ever tried to do a good thing and been accused of doing wrong for doing it? Does it hurt when that happens? Bible students know that Jesus was accused many times of evildoing based either on limited understanding, preconceived notions, or a desire to put an end to His life and work.

Here’s an example found in John 5:2-16: Jesus was walking along the by the pool near Sheep Gate and he saw a man lame for 38 years. Jesus as the man did he want to be healed and then proceeded to heal him. This was done on the Sabbath and upset many of the Jews around him. Later he healed a mute man and a blind man. Each time he was criticized and called names. The Jews began to devise plans to kill Jesus.

Jesus knew what it’s like to do good and yet be accused of evildoing, but He never let it stop Him from doing good. He received more slander and persecutions than any of us ever will. Do the followers of Christ ever get accused of wrongdoing when in fact they are doing right? The Bible says YES. Jesus said in Matt. 5:10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Acts 7:52-8:3 tells of stoning of Stephan the first Christian to die for his faith. Here is part of his dying words: “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.”

Stephen told the truth, a lot of truth in fact, that no one wanted to hear; so much so that the audience seized him and killed him as fast as they could. Not content with that, they went out and began persecuting anyone who was connected with Stephen or Jesus in any way! This did not stop the spread of the gospel, and the Bible record indicates that persecution for preaching Jesus brings a more numerous harvest of saved souls than peaceful times. (Maybe what the Lord’s church needs today is a persecution to erupt in this land…)

What shall we do today? 2 Timothy 1:7 says: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." Those who stand for right are accused of evil when God’s truth is spoken concerning sexual sins, abortion, abuse of alcohol and drugs, and obedience to God in matters of religion. Shall we have courage or shall we let unrighteous judgment silence us?

If our behavior is excellent, as it should be, it is inevitable that slander will come! We will inevitably be accused of wrongdoing when in fact we are doing right in God’s sight! But SOMEDAY there will be vindication, SOMEDAY the accuser will see that God’s way is right and what we were doing was not wrong or evil, but the will of God! And on that day God will be glorified by our right conduct!

We are not called to defend our every action or to avenge ourselves; God will take what vengeance is right (Rom. 12:19). What we are called to do is to endure with patience and keep on doing what is right; and we had better be doing what is right if we expect God to vindicate us rather than be told by God that we deserve to suffer because we are not doing what He wills!

Elder’s Corner (#336) - Lust

 The depiction of sex has become increasingly common in our society. It is rare to find a television show that does not include at least one scene of a sexual nature. Advertisements use glimpses of intimate areas of the body to catch viewers' attention. Books, movies, and even the songs we listen to, glorify romantic encounters.

We forget that our society is not the only one that has dealt with rampant sexual expression. Think about the artwork from the ancient Greek and Roman societies which has survived to our era. Nudes were frequently depicted, making one wonder if it was a common sight in their society or not. Yet this is the era in which Christianity was born. As the gospel spread through the Gentile regions, the apostles and other preachers of God's Word had to contend with a society that glorified sex.

James 1:13-16 warns us how people die a spiritual death. It starts with our desires. Each of us is born with desires to help us survive in this world. We experience hunger to remind us to fuel our bodies with food. We experience thirst when our bodies need more fluids. We have desires to sleep, to be respected, and to be loved. Even the desire for sex is necessary for the continuation of mankind. And yes, sex is meant to bring pleasure as well (Proverbs 5:18-19).

However, Satan uses our desires against us. He places us in situations where satisfying one of our desires will cause us to break a law of God. Enjoying a meal is not wrong, but overindulging in food is gluttony (Philippians 3:18-19; Proverbs 25:16). Satisfying your thirst with water is quite different from over indulging in alcoholic beverages (Proverbs 20:1; 23:20-21, 29-35). Sex is honorable within marriage, but God will bring judgment against those who engage in sex before marriage (fornicators) or the married who have sex with someone who is not his/her spouse (adulterers) (Hebrews 13:4).

We see that there is nothing we can do about our desires. If we do not eat, we will get hungry. If we do not drink, we will get thirsty. The desires to be respected and the desires for sex remain, so long as we live in these earthly bodies. We cannot dismiss these desires, no matter how much we may wish them to go away. Neither can we stop temptation. Temptation is a work of Satan and we cannot make him stop. Every person in this world must and will face temptations throughout his life.

When a person gives the temptation serious consideration and begins to rationalize that the satisfaction of the desire is worth the consequences of breaking God's law, we call that lust. Lust is any strong desire, but we generally reserve the word for a strong desire to do what is unlawful.

When the person acts on his desire and breaks the law of God, he sins (I John 3:4). Unfortunately, it rarely ends there. Once a person convinces himself to sin once, he will easily convince himself to sin additional times. Soon it becomes a habit to sin. Where his conscience might bother him at first, the repeat sinner no longer cares what anyone else thinks about his life.

We must have control in our response to temptation. It is the thoughts of our hearts that determine our character.  Most people contemplate sin for a while before they work up the nerve to attempt to try it. It is our thoughts which determine our course of future action (Matthew 6:22-23).

Understanding this helps us to understand Jesus's statement in Matthew 5:27-28. Jesus is not saying it is wrong to see a woman and note that she is pretty. However, to look at a woman and wonder what she would be like in bed is a completely different matter. To have sex with a person you are not married to is a sin (Hebrews 13:4). You might claim that you do not plan to actually have sex, you are just thinking about it. Yet, it is our thoughts which determine our future course of action. Is the reason you are not having sex because you believe it is wrong or because you simply have not had the opportunity to have sex outside of marriage? Even though a person may not have actually carried out his thoughts, the lack of opportunity to act doesn't make him any less of a sinner than the man who carried out his thoughts.

Elder’s Corner (#335) – I Will Never Leave You

We believe that all Scripture is from God, and that no one Scripture is more inspired than another. It is all from God. It is all equally inspired. But there are certain words in the Bible that may be more important than all the rest. These words give the Bible its authority. God hangs all his Words on “Thus saith the Lord!” It is God who has made this statement. It is God who promises, and He has never broken a promise. Nothing is more important than that we study what God has said.

How important it is that we study the Scriptures. There may be a verse in the Scripture today that would give you great comfort and exactly fit your need for this moment, but if you have not searched for it, it does you no good. You are like a prisoner in a dungeon with a pile of keys in front of you. One of those keys will give you your freedom, but if you will not search for it, you will never have freedom.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “I Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5).

As the Scripture, we find a very powerful promise attached to what God has said: never will I forsake you! If you are a child of God, the Lord will never, never leave you, and He will never, never, never forsake you! In understanding the power of this promise. First let us consider who it is that promises us this. It is the Lord that will never leave us, nor forsake us.

God is the only one that has always kept his promises. Man will fail in his words, even if he is the most sincere and honest and upright person. We may forget to do something that we promise, but God cannot forget. God never forgets! The only thing that God forgets is our sins!! He has thrown them into the deepest sea! But man is a liar. Man is unfaithful. How many here today have never lied, please raise your hand? We have all lied; we have all been unfaithful, but not God!

But look at what God has promised! You have put your faith in the LORD. He has made a promise to you. Though you and I deserve the flames of torment, God has made a promise that He cannot break because He is faithful. Do you realize what it took for God to keep his promise? God is holy, and there was a great price to be paid. How can God be holy, and still allow a sinner into heaven? It seems impossible to us, but God has done it. He sent Jesus to be God in human flesh. He gave His Son as a sacrifice for us.

You never have to look further than the Lord for your satisfaction! You can be content. You need no more than what you have today to be happy. All you need is our Lord. Most people are always looking for tomorrow. They live for tomorrow. And others live for yesterday! They are not content. They are not resting in the Lord. Yes, we need to live for today. For NOW. We should not covet yesterday or tomorrow. He is all we need. Do you believe that? Do you trust in Him? Does He satisfy you? You can never know happiness until you have trusted everything to Him! Rest in Him. Trust Him! He will never leave you!! You are His possession. He has bought you with the blood of His only Son. He will NEVER leave you. He has promised!!

Elder’s Corner (#334) - Revival in America

This past week we were blessed with a lesson presented to us by Ron Clayton concerning the work be done in India. It is amazing to hear the number of converted people in that county in the last few years. Afterward, I asked Ron why America isn’t responding to the Word like India is.  His reply made me flinch and really concerned me. “America is not ready for a revival. It has not reached bottom!” You see, India is in such turmoil – the Hindu religion has failed the people. They have no hope. The caste system doesn’t give people the opportunity to better themselves, in this life, or in any future reincarnated life.
In America, if people don’t like their religion – they just change it. Their “faith” does is not based on anything similar to the Truth. If you want to be rich – ask God – He promises it. If you want to get divorced – go ahead and do it – there is no reason not to. If you want to treat others with contempt – go ahead – it not really a sin. America’s belief in God, is seen as justification for all kinds of self-righteous, yet heinous, acts. “People of faith” think nothing of abusing other individuals; our religion lets us do such and in fact seems to endorse it. A person who is anti-abortion and who attacks an abortion clinic, is often praised by his or her church. America will never have a revival toward God unless we see the error of our religion.
America has so grieved God - its passion for sin is so horrible - that many are convinced there is no hope left! Indeed, in recent years I have been nearly convinced by America's terrible moral landslide that God has no option left but a quick and severe judgment. You see, in the past, God waited patiently for repentance, sending many prophets to warn of a day of reckoning. But a day finally comes when He says, "Enough!" and prayer is useless at that point. It happened to Noah's generation. It happened also to Lot's generation, in Sodom and Gomorrah. It happened as well in Jerusalem. (Read Jeremiah 7:12-16). Has America reached that low? Yes? No? Maybe?
America needs a revival, or judgement will come first.
God's people must never be intimidated by the darkness of Satan. It doesn't matter how dark with sin the world becomes. The Bible says Jesus is going to rise and shine in the darkness!
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." (Isaiah 60:1-3).
"But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’” (Jeremiah 18:12).
Judah had given up hope, thinking, "We've gone too far - and now there's no going back. We have left the Lord, mocked Him, abused Him, cast Him aside. We are so deep into our sins, it's hopeless. Not even God can bring us back!" I still have to fight this kind of thinking. You may feel the same way. We will never be ready for a revival until we return to God’s Word. Believe in God for the impossible!
If Jesus prophesied a great harvest, then we are going to witness supernatural outpourings of God's Spirit on vast multitudes here as we see in India today. When the Spirit was poured out the first time in Jerusalem, thousands were saved at once. And, likewise today, we ought to pray for the Word to fall on entire nations - even those in Satan’s strongholds.

Elder’s Corner (#333) - How to Change Yourself
Are you happy with yourself? To those reading this article, you probably are to the most part. You probably believe that you are a “good” person and have very few faults. Good for you! But, ALL of us can be better. The question is: do you want to be?
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
Maybe we are genuinely good people at heart, but we have some bad habits. We believe that these sins are not bad enough to keep us out of heaven, just bad enough to annoy others. They are not even significant enough to keep us from sleeping at night.
There is something pleasing or at least entertaining in many bad habits; otherwise, we would not so easily succumb to them. The significance of a habit depends on its consequences. Heroin use, for example, has far more serious consequences than biting fingernails. The most significant habits are those that have eternal consequences.
Have you ever had difficulty trying to change a habit? Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to continue acting as we have in the past. Like a river flowing through a canyon, the longer a habit continues, the more deeply it becomes ingrained, and the harder it is to change. This is true of all habits, good or bad.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
These verses show that major changes must occur when we are converted. Old practices and attitudes must be replaced by new ones. We must learn good habits like Bible study, prayer, attending church meetings, giving, teaching others, etc. We must also eliminate bad habits like foul language, uncontrolled temper, gambling, drugs, drinking, gossip, lying, pornography, sexual promiscuity, etc.
We need to know, not just what changes to make, but how to make them. Change does not come easily. Since the Scriptures provide us to all good works (2 Timothy 3:16, 17), they give all the guidance we need.
Christians have some of the strongest possible motives for changing from their bad habits. These habits may prevent us from our ultimate goal – heaven. Don’t you think that God knows this? He wants to help us correct the situation we find ourselves. The Bible (God’s Word) tell us how to correct even the most difficult and ingrained habit.
The apostle Paul wrote, “You are slaves of the one you obey” (Romans 6:16). If we do not take responsibility for our own thoughts and actions, no one else will.
Anyone can overcome his bad habits. Every believer who has suffered from some desire or from attacks of obsessive thoughts, knows how much prayer helps in that time of trial. He also knows that equally helpful to prayer is confession of that passion. Therefore, to become a true, loving person, one capable of building up and bringing joy to others, it is essential to overcome one’s passions and not allow new evil habits to appear.

Elder’s Corner (#332) – Use Your Senses!
Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to keep our primary senses as sharp and as functional as possible, there is another way in which many people let themselves become quite ‘senseless’. Upon his arrival in Rome, the apostle Paul spoke to the Jewish leaders who came out to hear what his views were concerning the ‘sect’ of those who had decided to follow Christ (Acts 28:22). Upon seeing the disbelief of some, and their dismissal of his testimony concerning the Christ, Paul recalled a portion of the Scriptures to these men. “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying, ‘Go to this people and say, “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but you will not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I should heal them”’(Acts 28:25-27).
 Jesus also quotes this prophecy, from Isaiah 6, as He describes the outcome of His teaching in parables in Matthew 13. There were some who would refuse to see, hear, and understand—the message Jesus brought would be useless to them, because they didn’t allow their senses to function correctly. On the contrary, many of the Savior’s hearers were receptive and, accordingly, perceptive. “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear” (Matthew 13:16).
 While a cold may simply dampen or weaken some of the senses, our exercising of spiritual sense, the kind described by Jesus, Paul, and Isaiah, is a matter of ‘yes or no’— either we both see and hear, or we are blind and deaf. In context, the truth which we must accept, which must register with all of our senses, is that of the kingdom of God. Matthew 13 contains eight parables describing the kingdom of heaven—its importance, value, and majesty—as Jesus invites His listeners to respond as ‘fertile soil’ to His words. Paul’s words in Acts 28 come after Luke tells us that the apostle “was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God, and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening” (Acts 28:23). So, do you hear and see? Do your ears work when Christ describes the surpassing greatness of the kingdom? Have you seen the way to enter, described by Paul, Jesus, and other inspired writers? Do you understand that nothing available, nothing conceivable, in this world is more valuable and precious than citizenship in heaven?
 It is vital that we apply our senses (which must be trained by constant practice, as in Hebrews 5:14) so that we perceive everything we should see, hear, and understand. The message is available—the word has sounded forth, the light has been revealed. It is left to us to choose whether or not we will accept it in full. “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43)—if you are outside the kingdom, stay outside no longer. If you have rejected the word, embrace it. If you have let worldly treasures inhibit your pursuit of godly things, empty yourself of them and purchase that ‘pearl of great value. If you have long since ceased bearing fruit in the field, renew your efforts and begin to show others the way again. Don’t be senseless! Understand the will of the Lord, and make it your effort to see that will done in your life.

Elder’s Corner (#331) – Who Should We Believe?
Religions tend to invent ideas and concepts just like every other creative human thought, and they have produced some remarkably bad ideas onto society. Most of these are centered on the notion of telling people what to do and how to live their lives, with the aim of convincing people that conformity to church guidelines will bring some future reward in the afterlife.
One example of many is the Christian belief that the one and only way not to eternally burn in Hell is to accept Jesus Christ as their savior.
Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong, doesn’t seem to believe in Hell, and during a nationally televised interview (Jan 31, 2008) he shared his opinions on why he thinks convincing the flock to believe in the concept of ‘Hell’ is absolutely critical to the Church’s survival.
“I don’t think Hell exists. I happen to believe in life after death, but I don’t think it’s got a thing to do with reward and punishment. Religion is always in the control business, and that’s something people don’t really understand. It’s in a guilt-producing control business. And if you have Heaven as a place where you’re rewarded for your goodness, and Hell is a place where you’re punished for your evil, then you have control of the population. And so they create this fiery place which has quite literally scared the Hell out of a lot of people, throughout Christian history. And it’s part of a control tactic.”
“Every church I know claims that ‘we are the true church’ – that they have some ultimate authority, ‘We have the infallible Pope,’ ‘We have the Bible.’… The idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system, by any human creed, by any human book, is almost beyond imagination for me.
God is not a Christian. God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindi or Buddhist. All of those are human systems, which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God.
The Lutheran bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), was recently (September 8, 2017) asked a variety of questions regarding her ministry. She stated that she believes there is a Hell, but it is empty because Jesus has vowed to "draw all people to himself."
Every religious organization is different. Which one shall we believe and does it really matter? If we don’t accept the Bible as the word of God, then what should we believe? Should we believe in the words of mortal man? The apostle Peter has the answer: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)
But again, what should we believe? Peter once again provided the answer: In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; (2 Peter 2:3-4)
The Bible is full of prophesies and promises and covers thousands of years. Every prophesy of the Old Testament has been fulfilled. Many of the New Testament prophesies have been too. (Some are yet to be fulfilled.) Does this not prove that the Bible contains the word of God, who knows the future? Could man predict the future so accurately and as many times without one single error?
Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. (John 7:18)

Elder’s Corner (#330) – Church Personalities
What church should I go to? Does God care which church I attend?” You may have asked yourself these or similar questions as you consider the place of worship in your life. Have you ever noticed that congregations have personalities? I have attended many churches in my Christian life, and I don’t think I’ve been to 2 that are alike. When I moved from one state to another, my family went to multiple churches of Christ to find one that we would be comfortable worshiping in. It turned out the church we settled in was further from our home than we would like, in fact, we passed 2 other churches of Christ to get to the one we liked! How is that possible? The basic beliefs are the same. We believe:
  • That the Bible is the inspired and only infallible, authoritative written Word of God.
  • That there is one God and that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
  • That repentance and baptism (submersion) is required for our salvation.
  • That the only means of being saved and cleansed from sin is through the blood of Jesus.
  • That God hears and answers the prayers of His children.
  • That Jesus will someday personally return.
  • That we will be judged for our actions.
  • That there will someday be a resurrection of both the saved and the lost.
From what I’ve read and seen in my life, a church’s personality stems from the leadership. The personality may be described as “friendly”, “loving”, “evangelical”, “aggressive”, or even “hostile”, “argumentative”, and “dysfunctional”. This personality may be evident in the Bible lessons, sermon, or it may hit you the moment you enter the front door. A church’s personality is also evident in the music. (And here’s the momentous tip for you: don’t force a congregation into doing music against their personality!)
What is most important to you – the song service, a friendly greeting at the front door, or predominate “white” or “black” congregation? Is the number of children important to you? Is the size of the church critical to where you worship? But, then again, should it matter? The answer of course is NO it shouldn’t, but it does matter! We should desire to worship at a place in truth and in spirit, but we are most likely to worship in a place of comfort – a place where we FIT in.
Recently, I was challenged by a friend with a particular thought.  Sometimes churches tend to build themselves around similarities – ethnicity, age groups, personality types, worship styles, and interests.  However, as he pointed out, the church is meant to tear down the natural homogeneous barriers that we find so comfortable.
It turns out personality change often causes the greatest amount of disunity in churches.  And sometimes not being able to recognize that causes the greatest amount of frustration.  It’s like we can’t put our finger on it, but that person irritates us.  We think it must be some sin or character deficiency.  We might say, “They’re so unthoughtful,” or “The way they go about that just lacks spiritual maturity.”   Sometimes that might be the case, but perhaps all it is, “is that God created them different than us”.
I ask for lots of mercy, grace, and forgiveness toward myself as well as for our brothers and sisters that suffer with various quirks and faults that irritate us.  Instead of seeing only the shortcomings in each other, let us choose to see the mighty Holy Spirit at work in each other.  When confrontation must happen, let us be eager to clear the air.  When there is hurting, let us be eager to forgive.  Where we might find fault, let us find an opportunity to encourage each other in our lifelong journeys to be like Jesus.  For in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female…” and … “for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Elder’s Corner (#329)– Is there really that much difference?
From time to time I hear some really dumb things and I wonder, “do they really believe that?” Today, I was reading about various religious denominations, trying to understand what each one thought and taught. Is there really that much difference in Christianity? If I cannot find a church of Christ near me, can I still worship God at some denominational church? Is there really that much difference in our teachings? How much difference can I accept and still be “righteous”. Paul warned, "let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).
There are some religious groups who teach that it is impossible to fall from grace. Sam Morris, a noted Baptist preacher, said: "We take the position that a Christian's sins do not damn his soul. The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people have nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul... All the prayers a man may pray, all the Bibles he may read, all the churches he may belong to, all the services he may attend, all the sermons he may practice, all the debts he may pay, all the ordinances he may observe, all the laws he may keep, all the benevolent acts he may perform will not make his soul one bit safer; and all the sins he may commit from idolatry to murder will not make his soul in any more danger... The way a man lives has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul... The way I live has nothing whatsoever to do with the salvation of my soul." (Do A Christian's Sins Damn His Soul?, Sam Morris, First Baptist Church, Stamford, Texas).
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel said, “But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die." (Ezek. 18:24).
During the holidays my daughter and her family are visiting from the UK. I asked her if she found a church of Christ to worship there. She said that she thought she did: the people were very nice, they had no instrumental music, they took of the Lord’s Supper every week, and the preacher was very knowledgeable. Then one day the minister finished his series of lectures and another person began a new series – but this person was a woman!
I know that in this country, a few churches of Christ allow women to serve at the Lord’s Table. They are not allowed to pray, but are allowed to participate in the ceremony. Other churches allow women to lead prayer during the worship service.
Christians can depart from God and be hardened by sin. The Hebrew writer said, "See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness." (Heb. 3:12-13).
Some things are just plain blatant lies (such as the above quoted statements). It is hard to believe that one can read the Bible and believe such things. Other lies are quite subtle. It seems that “truth” means something different today than it did just 50 years ago. What is cultural? What is acceptable today? These are things I will be writing about for the next few weeks and discussing on Sunday nights. Will you not attend?

Elder’s Corner (#328) – Spiritually Fit
Here we are again. We have come to the end of another year. Time to start thinking about those New Years resolutions – or have you give up on them? The number one resolution made at this time of year is to get physically fit. Many set goals of losing 10-25 pounds and join fitness clubs. How has that worked for you? Maybe you lasted a month or two, but the call of chocolate cake, fudge, or cookies become too strong for you and you give up. Maybe we put too much emphasis on physical fitness, after all somewhere down the road we all return to dust. Spiritually fitness however, lasts forever.
Have you ever pondered on how spiritually fit or mature you are? The bible gives us indicators of how we ought to live as Christians. But somewhere down the line, we get confused on what it means to mature in Christ or be spiritually fit.
Perhaps you are one of those who believe that because you attend church is evidence of your maturity or an indicator of your spiritual development. But this is simply not so. It's like saying that because you go to your local gym means you will have a svelte, toned and fit body even though all you do there is catch up with friends, sit in the sauna and just goof around without actually doing any tangible exercises. And even if you do some exercise, it may not get you to your desired goal.
Please hear me, I believe church plays a vital role in our Christian development. When you find a great church, the teaching and programs offered become a pivotal foundation for your growth. However, you have to build on this. Simply put, if you only rely on the sermons, praise, worship, etc. that takes place on a Sunday, without continuing this outside of church, you may find yourself not developing (if at all) as much as you could. So, if you want an in-depth relationship with God, there is a price to pay and you have to be willing to exercise your spiritual muscles. Just like a physical workout, no one can do this for you.
Now putting it in a spiritual context, what do you need to do to develop your spiritual muscles and become spiritually fit? What price are you willing to pay for your growth and development in God? How much extra investment are you willing make? Might you need to attend bible classes/school, attend midweek services, join your home group, and establish a prayer routine? Or maybe, you need to become more diligent in your quiet time, reading and studying of the Bible, meditating, praying, fasting, and much more?
Remember the Kingdom of Heaven or even your spiritual development is not about reaching a certain level in God. However, it is about a gradual progression to knowing the Father intimately. None of us will ever get to the point where we can say we have arrived in God and sit back. Therefore, we ought to adopt Paul’s notion in Philippians 3:12 where we keep working toward that day when we will finally be all that Jesus saved us for and wants us to be. We can emulate the people of Berea who studied the Word of God continuously, for themselves, in addition to what Paul and Silas taught them (Acts 17:10-12). So, you may want to set yourself a personal challenge such as studying a certain number of verses or chapters in a specified time, extending your prayer time (quality versus quantity though!), read more books to develop you spiritually and perhaps cut out distractions such the TV, Internet, etc. As with all goals, it is important to periodically check how you are doing against your intentions and make changes when necessary.

Elder’s Corner (#327) – Christmas
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:17-20)
Around the first of November you can see billboards which tell us to "Put Christ back into Christmas." People everywhere claim Christmas is too commercialized and say that we are overlooking the real meaning of Christmas. Some preachers will ask, "What are you going to give Christ on His birthday?" Most churches will organize Christmas plays, cantatas, and programs.
We are told that we should remember our Lord Jesus while we partake of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25); the apostles stated multiple times that we should remember the teachings of Jesus. There should be an understanding that Jesus came to earth to provide man a means of removing sins from his life. Much of the Gospel has been given to us to tell us of His life and especially of His death and resurrection. There is no bad time to remember Jesus.
God does not want His Son remembered only as a baby lying in a manger, but as the suffering Savior and now resurrected Redeemer. How then should I remember Jesus? God has left three memorials to Christ – all of which point to His death and resurrection:
First, water baptism reminds us of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6:3-4).
Second, the Lord's Supper is a constant reminder of His death. As we partake of the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine, we "proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Third, our worship on the Lord's Day, the first day of the week, reminds us of His resurrection (Matthew 28:1; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10).
When Christ came to the earth the first time, the Magi (the “kings” from the East), brought with them gifts for the newborn “King of the Jews.” Gold because he was a king, frankincense because he was a priest, and myrrh because he was born to die for the sins of the world. Those “kings” bowed in wonder. In the days to come all the “kings” of the earth will bow before the Lord Jesus Christ. They will be silent before the victorious Son of God.
Christmas is indeed a cause for holy wonder. How can it be that God should become a man? How can a King be born in a feeding-trough? How could the world ignore his coming? And what sort of God comes into the world like this?
You ought to be amazed at Christmastime. If you managed to go through this Christmas season without ever pausing to think about the wonder of it all, then you have missed the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place.
Have you seen Jesus this year at Christmastime? If you have, take the memory of Christmas with you. Glorify God and praise him as you go about your routine and you will find your days filled with joy.
How shall we celebrate Christmas after Christmas is past? Let’s follow the inspired outline in Luke 2:17-20.
  • Proclaiming the good news that Christ has come.
  • Wondering at God’s amazing plan.
  • Pondering the works of God.
  • Glorifying God in our daily lives.
Do these things and you will have Christmas all year long.

Elder’s Corner (#326)  - I know I ought to, but…
There is one little word in the English language that has the power to cancel out every acknowledgement of truth and seemingly noble intention – that word is “but.” When someone says, “I know I ought to, but…”, you immediately know what’s about to follow. The use of the word “but” becomes a process of explaining why a particular truth does not apply to them. By their use of the word “but” they have in effect denied their responsibility.
Have you ever heard folks say, “I know I ought to obey the gospel, but….”? The truth is that God has provided mankind salvation through Jesus Christ:
The disciple says, “Oh, I know I ought to, but….” The excuses come flowing as rushing waters down a mountainside. That which follows the word “but” ranges from, “I’ve got a hangnail on my pinky” (a very serious illness to some), to once-in-a-lifetime special events. This writer knows of one member who says, “It’s okay to miss worshiping God for special events, as long as I don’t do it all the time” (?). God’s word, however, says something entirely different (Hebrews 10:24-27).
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 15-20)
Now, who is it that wrote these words? “That which I want to do, I do not do. And that which I hate to do is exactly what I do.”  Who is it that wrote these words? Was it some seventeen year old kid who was off parked with his girlfriend one night and he discovered his hormones were stronger than the Holy Spirit?  Was it some newly “born again” Christian who was a recent Christian convert? Was this written by some TV evangelist who pompously parades around on some platform, preaching and pretending, that all of these temptations have left him?
We all know that the man who wrote these words was the Apostle Paul. Here he was at the very high point of his life. Fifty-five to sixty-five years old; a mature Christian; he had been a Christian for some twenty to twenty-five years. Here was the Apostle Paul who was saying, “I don’t get it. I do not get it. I do the things that I hate. And the very things that I want to do, I don’t do. That which I don’t want to do, I do. What is wrong with me? What a wretched person?” 
But … is that all there is? That we struggle with sin? No, not at all. Paul continues speak about the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit that comes into your life and gives you strength. He talks about the Holy Spirit who helps you get over your alcoholism, your drug addictions. He talks about the Holy Spirit who helps you get control of those destructive behaviors that are hurting your family. He talks about the Holy Spirit, forgiving you through the death of Christ on the cross.
And then it begins to dawn on us that one of the marks of a mature Christian is the awareness of this struggle with evil in your life. One of the marks of a mature Christian is this honest awareness about who are, honest about this civil war within us. It is to struggle with evil until your dying day. We all struggle. We all say to ourselves,O wretched person that I am.”

Elder’s Corner (#325) – Perception
Have you watched the news on the television recently? The “hottest” news today are the stories of important men in our country (politicians, newscasters, sports stars, etc.) that have been accused of sexual misconduct. These claims, whether true or not, change how we perceive our leaders, heroes, and even men in general. Are these claims true? You know it really doesn’t matter, does it?  The damage is done. The reputations are ruined. These men are hated. We, the public will believe anything without evidence. We can have our moment in front of the cameras simply by accusing a famous person of some juicy sin.
We have entire television channels and radio stations dedicated to the propagation of one particular way of thinking. Some people like one channel because they are “more liberal” while others like this channel because they are “more conservative” and the rest of the world falls into the trap that we can be objective.
We seek out opinions from everything from a new toaster to the new medical center in the area. We want to know people’s experiences about something before we waste our time, money and energy on a futile venture. If a product on Amazon has too many “one-star” reviews I am not going to purchase it. If my friends or family members have a bad experience at a restaurant or store then I will think twice about going there myself. Trying to “change” someone’s opinion is hard if not impossible; for some people the “damage” is done and there is no turning back.
The church is not immune to this to this. The church today finds itself in a bit of an opinion/perception crisis that Christians are ignoring. Many Christians see the decline of churches around them and it doesn’t bother them. Others tie the decline of the American society with a failure of the church in today’s culture and don’t know what to do about it.
The problem that is really facing the church is others’ opinions of it. Many people do not have an issue with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Their opinion is formed and shaped by the experiences they have at a church and/or the actions of fellow Christians.
If my perception of the church is one that is shaped by people who come across as “holier than thou” and want to point out my flaws all in the name of sin eradication, then I’m not going to have a high opinion of the church. If my perception of the church is one in which love is conditional based on beliefs of some creed of man, then I’m not going to have a high opinion of that church. If I perceive that the church only wants my money – I won’t go. If I perceive that the building is more important than helping others, I have no need of them.
The church must come to grips with its perception problem. The Bible is more than a law book; it is more than a book of “do’s” and “don’t’s”. It is a book of faith of how God moved, interacted, and changed the world. We should not criticize the way folks are living and set out to change them - that is God’s job. We are to teach them what God has told us.
People need to experience the same Christ that I know, the same grace that I have been afforded, to be welcomed into a community that loves them for where they are now and who they were created to be. I want them to be in a community of faith that shows them the beauty of God, the majesty of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit — all with grace, unconditional love, humility, and respect.
It is up to followers of Christ like you and me to open the doors and show them an understanding of faith that will reshape their perceptions of the church. It’s worth a shot.

Elder’s Corner (#324) – Not Home Yet
I found this story on the internet the other day. (It must be true!)
There is a story about an old missionary couple who had spent their lives working in Africa. They were returning to New York City to retire. They had no pension, their health was broken, and they were discouraged and afraid. When they went down to the wharf to board the ship, they discovered that they were booked on the same ship as President Teddy Roosevelt, who was returning from a big game hunt.
When they boarded the ship, no one paid any attention to them. Then they watched the fanfare as the President arrived, with the band playing and people waiving and straining for a glimpse of the great man.
As the ship moved across the ocean, the old missionary said to his wife, “Dear, something is wrong. Why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these years, and yet no one cares about us? Here this man comes back from a big game hunt, and everybody makes much over him.” His wife replied, “Dear, you shouldn’t feel that way. Try not to be bitter about it.” But he said, “I just can’t help it. It doesn’t seem right.
As the boat neared America, he became more depressed. When the ship docked, a band was waiting to greet the President. The mayor of New York plus a bunch of national leaders were there. The papers carried the story on the front page. But no one noticed the missionaries, as they slipped off the boat and went to find a cheap flat and to look for work.
That night the man’s spirit broke. He felt that God had abandoned them. It just wasn’t fair. “We don’t have anyone to help us and nowhere to go,” he told his wife. “Why doesn’t God meet our need?” His wife replied, “Why don’t you go into the bedroom and talk to the Lord about the whole thing?”
A short time later he came out of the bedroom, but now his face was happy. His wife asked what happened. He said, “I told the Lord the whole thing. I told Him that it’s not fair. I told Him how I was bitter because the President received this tremendous homecoming, when no one met us when we returned home. And you know, as I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and said simply, “But, you’re not home yet.
An old song goes, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through; my treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckoned me from heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” I wonder how many believers today could sing that song truthfully?
I wonder how many of you did something this past week because you were consciously motivated by the thought that the Lord would be pleased with you. If you’re not living to lay up treasures in heaven, your focus is wrong. In Hebrews 11, the great faith chapter, the emphasis is on the fact that these great men and women of faith died without receiving an earthly reward. They were seeking “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). Moses left the riches and power of Pharaoh’s court and endured ill treatment with the people of God, “for he was looking to the reward” (Heb. 11:26).

Elder’s Corner (#323) – Saying “Goodbye”
We are a church that is saying goodbye with much more frequency. Few have died and gone to live with their Lord God; some left to go someplace to live out their last days in retirement; some have left to evangelize elsewhere. To some good brothers and sisters, it’s never easy - especially when you are seeing godly people in your life go. Today is the last Sunday that we will worship together with Linda and Charles (Buck). Gosh we hate to see them go.
Some of us are better at goodbyes than others. Some are quick to say goodbye. Rip off the Band-Aid. Fare thee well. That’s life.
Others say goodbye several times, intended or not. Like saying “good night” before you both realize you’re actually headed toward the same parking lot, this may or may not be a feeling of anything but awkwardness.
Then there’s the familiar: “see ya later” or “come back for a visit” final greeting, both of you pausing for a moment after you say it, realizing that, well, you probably won’t.
We are all somewhat clumsy with our farewells. Probably because they reintroduce us all over again to the fact that we are not in ultimate control of our lives or of anyone else’s.
In my own heart, I'm very prone to want to keep my Christian family to myself and not share them. Yet, saying goodbye is the way of the first century church. And the book of Acts presses me on this preference.
As one reads the book of Acts, what is revealed is a repeating pattern: As Christ is building His church, He brings His people together in groups for a time, for seasons, to accomplish kingdom work. Some stay together to nurture the work. Others are called out to start still other works. Two thousand years later, this is still the ebb and flow of healthy Christian community.
Where ever Linda and Buck go – they will strengthen the church. They are just that type of people.
Godly people must hold one another with an open hand. What God shows me in Acts causes me to consider anew the Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28. By His Word, He gently pries my tightly closed fist open, me screaming all the way: "These are my friends, God. This is who I need with me to follow you. We've been through a lot together. I'm not letting them go."
This continues today for me, and I’d guess for you, too. He still leads friends away to other kingdom works. He’s growing me to be quicker to say, "O God, these brothers and sisters don't belong to me. I'm not the master of their days; Jesus is."
Even in the community of my own family—my wife and my children and grandchildren — I must recognize Jesus commands their destinies. "God, they are not mine to do with and to direct as I please. Under your leadership I will lead them, but Lord, you have your way with them."
Godly people who are about the gospel say goodbye often, confident in our union together as the family of God and confident that we will celebrate again. We WILL see one another again at the marriage supper of the Lamb. We will be with God together. For all time.
But now, just for a little while, we have little time to waste. The Great Commission overrides any attempts to build our own little realm of believers with whom we want to associate. God is so much greater. This is the legacy of disciple-making into which the first disciples were called—a call that still resounds for us today.
We are part of an ages-old, ongoing, epic work of the Creator God, whose image we bear, who is transforming us still by His work in Christ through our Christian community. It says something about who we are as the body of Christ that we have said many gospel goodbyes. Christians living rightly consistently say goodbye.
No one in our lives is with us constantly, save for the Lord Jesus by His Holy Spirit. It is in this that we trust, as we say our goodbyes with great hope.
David and Jonathan were as close as friends as we read about in the Bible and so just before David left Jonathan, “Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city” (1st Sam 20:42). Isn’t that a similar relationship every brother and sister in Christ has with one another? Even when we say goodbye to the saints on earth by death we are not really saying “goodbye” but “see ya later.”

Elder’s Corner (#322) - The Age of Accountability
The Bible teaches us that each person is held accountable for his own sins. "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20). Yet, a small child doesn't understand the difference between right and wrong. The child is dependent upon his parents to guide him in doing the correct actions. Such is illustrated by Israel's rebellion against God in the wilderness. Those who were twenty and above (Numbers 14:31) were to die in the wilderness, but some were spared. "Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see that good land of which I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and his children I am giving the land on which he walked, because he wholly followed the LORD.' The LORD was also angry with me for your sakes, saying, 'Even you shall not go in there; Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall go in there. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it" (Deuteronomy 1:35-39). God did not hold the children accountable for the sins committed by their parents. The reason being that they had no knowledge of good and evil.
That phrase is exactly the same one used to describe the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which Adam and Eve partook. Children have no knowledge of good and evil. They, like Adam and Eve when they were first created, are innocent before God. But at some point in time, children grow up. They learn the difference between right and wrong, and with that knowledge comes accountability.
The Bible doesn't speak of a particular age when a child becomes knowledgeable of good and evil. I suspect that it is because it varies from child to child. Speak to a child of seven about what makes something sinful and you will get broad answers that generally encompasses the idea that Mom and Dad don't approve of it. Speak to an eighteen-year-old and you find not only the concept of right and wrong but that he as an individual must choose between the two. When does the shift occur? I'm not really certain, but I've noticed that it often comes around the time of puberty in many people.
To speak of the age at which a person is considered an adult is not the same as the age at which a person is considered accountable. When we talk about an age of accountability, we are discussing when a person matures enough to be able to distinguish between right and wrong. Or another way to put it, the age when a person understand enough about good and evil to be held accountable for the choices that he makes. When God condemned the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, He did not hold the children responsible for the choices made by the adults. (Deuteronomy 1:39) Notice that the distinguishing characteristic was their knowledge of good and evil. At this particular time, God set the limit at those 20 years old or greater to be held accountable for the rebellion against going into the land of Canaan. Is twenty an absolute fixed number? Most people reach the point of being accountable by the time they are twenty..
But when we speak of a person being an adult, we are talking about the time when all development is complete - both physical and mental. This age also varies greatly from individual to individual, just as the age when puberty starts varies. Studies in recent years show that even after physical body changes have come to an end, the brain continues to develop. For example, one of the last areas that develop in a man's brain is the part that helps a person assess risk. For many men, this doesn't kick in until after age 24, and it is a major reason why auto insurance for men is higher before age 25. Young men tend to take excessive risks. But just because the brain hasn't fully developed, it doesn't imply that it hasn't developed enough for the individual to decide between good and evil.
Have you reached the age where you are accountable for your actions; and are you ready to accept the consequences of your actions? God will hold all men accountable for their actions. "So then each of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12).

Elder’s Corner (#321) - Singing and Worship
Christians readily identify with assembling on the first day of the week to worship their God and remember their Savior.  Additionally, familiarity exists for Christians partaking of the Lord’s Supper, giving, praying, hearing preaching, and singing each Sunday.  Few Christians would reject the notion that these practices represent the worship of faithful followers of Christ from today all the way back to the first century with the establishment of the Church.  Throughout the centuries, Christians strove to obey the commands of God regarding worship.
Paul commanded singing to congregations at Ephesus and Colossae:
Eph 5:19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
Col 3:16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
The most vital part of singing is the heart, not the vocal cords; the quality of the meditation, not the beauty of the sound.   Paul told the church at Ephesus that they should make melody with their heart.  He said that a heart prepared to sing was a heart “filled with the Spirit”, that is, a heart that is richly filled with the word of Christ (Col 3:16).
Singing is to be directed to God.  One type of song is a “hymn” (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).  A hymn is a song of praise that is sung in order to honor God and to magnify Him for His great power, His infinite wisdom, and His wonderful character.   Through Jesus we are to continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God (Heb 13:15).    With one accord and with one voice we are to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 15:6).  We are to sing not only to praise God for who He is, but to thank Him for all that He has done and is doing for us- to express our appreciation for the spiritual and physical blessings that we receive from His hand.  Our spiritual sacrifices should include the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name (Heb 13:15).  We are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts to God (Col 3:16).
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.
16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
We sing not only to God, but we speak to one another as brethren (Eph 5:19).  We sing spiritual songs that contain truths (and even quotations) from Scripture that instruct us and admonish (or warn) us concerning the consequences of living immorally and failing in our responsibilities (Col 3:16).  Also, when we sing in the assembly we do so to edify or to build one another up in our faith (1 Cor 14:26).
A moment should be taken to clearly identify what “worship” means.  Worship displays itself in the honor, reverence, or respect given to a specific target.  Historically, man chose to direct worship toward all sort of animate and inanimate objects, real and imagined, in addition to or excluding Jehovah, the one and only God of all that exists (Isaiah 44).  The Bible provides guidelines for proper worship in John 4:24 stating: God is Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  Summarily, this verse establishes: a defined target for properly worshiping God (God Himself), an intent to worship Him (spirit), and a pattern of worshiping Him (truth – found in His Word – John 17:17).  Thus, the concept of no worship unless there is intent seems to hold firm.  However, this does not provide a clear framework or answer for determining how singing songs associated with God should be treated whether in or out of worship.  It also does not determine whether or not such songs have authorization to be separated from worship (reverence to God). 

Elder’s Corner (#320) - Giving

In Mark 12:41-44, the text reads: Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
As we are “giving” into the Lord’s treasury each Sunday, do we as Christians really know and understand the true meaning of this term in our land of plenty? From the above account of Jesus, let us make some observations concerning the sacrificial giving of this precious lady in Mark 12:41-44 and see if we can make application of the self-less attitude of her heart to our own life.
The Greek word for poor in our text is “ptochos” and literally means one who is “crouching, cringing in the manner of beggars; hence, begging, beggarly, poor; then, as subst., a beggar, mendicant, living on the alms of others, having nothing at all”. While some of us regard ourselves as “poor,” relative to others who have “more” than we do, the import of our text suggests that this poor widow was extremely destitute.
The widow gave “all that she had, even all her living” (vs. 44). Her action indicates that she was a believer in the Lord’s providence. Even though she gave her entire income, she trusted that the Lord somehow would care for her (Philippians 4:19; cf. Psalm 23:1). She did not believe the Lord would allow her to die of starvation (cf. Psalm 37:25). Such sacrificial trust is rare indeed. Let’s examine how the widow gave:
1) The widow followed the Lord’s Will and “first gave her own self to the Lord” (Matthew 7:21; 2 Corinthians 8:5).
2) She gave with “a willing mind” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
3) She gave as she had “purposed in her heart” and gave “cheerfully; not grudgingly or of necessity” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
4) She gave out of her poverty – out of her deficiency; while the others who gave did so out of their excess or overflow (they gave what they did not need and thus did not show any self-denial).
The widow gave with an attitude of self-denial because she loved the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5).
5) She was a self-less person. She did not calculate her resources to determine whether or not she was able to afford this gift.
6) She was grateful for the Father’s gracious blessings (James 1:17). This is true sacrificial giving.
The gift of the poor widow was greater than all that had “cast money into the treasury” (Mark 12:41) because she gave more in direct proportion to her ability and thus secured a greater blessing from the Lord (vs. 43-44). She did voluntarily what Jesus had vainly commanded the rich young ruler to do (Matthew 19:21; cf. Luke 12:33; Acts 2:45; Acts 4:34-35). Many improperly apply the term “widow’s mite” to their trifling contributions. To give a widow’s mite, one must give all his living.
The time to learn “how” to benevolently give is in childhood. It should be every Christian man and woman’s duty to observe, not how much to give, but how much compared with what he or she has and the “motive” behind our giving. Few are willing to practice self-denial, however this attitude is what is required of our Lord in order to advance the gospel and thus His kingdom.

Elder’s Corner (#319) – The Goodness of God
 Every new day gives us reason for expressing our gratitude to our God, Who is truly alive and has made possible all things worth having in this life and in the life to come. Many may respond to the goodness of God in various ways, yet the Scriptures tell us the goodness of God should lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). In Psalm 107:1, the Psalmist expresses some very beautiful and meaningful thoughts that ought to remind us of the goodness of God and what our response to that goodness should be: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
This psalm begins with an admonition to all to give thanks to God. Why? Because He is good. God is the epitome of goodness and love, and the goodness and love of God prompted Him to extend His mercy to us in the most beautiful and meaningful way possible—in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. It was the total goodness of God that caused Him to love you and me when we were totally unlovable. It was that complete goodness that caused the God of Heaven to give up His only son that we might have access to eternal life, to the abundant life, now and forevermore.
The second verse calls upon those who have appreciated that goodness above anyone else to express that goodness to others. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story — those he redeemed from the hand of the foe. We should appreciate above anyone else the goodness of God! The redeemed—those who have been saved from their sins, should appreciate the goodness of God above all others upon this earth. The world doesn’t particularly appreciate the goodness of God. Those who are living their own lives, going their own way, living as they please, do not appreciate the goodness of God that brought salvation down from Heaven, because they have not responded to that goodness. They have not shown their appreciation in the only meaningful way possible—through obedience to God’s will. But we who are Christians, above all others, should appreciate the goodness of Almighty God. As verse 2 admonishes, we should tell others of that goodness.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so. In other words, let the redeemed of the Lord talk about the goodness of God. Let’s talk about our religion, not hide it. Generally we think those who talk about their religion—about what the Lord has done for them—are a little strange, don’t we? One cannot criticize the enthusiasm and zeal often characteristic of those even in error religiously. Yet, the redeemed, the truly redeemed of the Lord, those who know they have the truth and have rendered obedience to the truth, say less about it many times that those who have followed the traditions and the teachings of men. Let the redeemed of Jehovah say so. Let the redeemed say that God is good. Let the redeemed say they have been redeemed. Let the redeemed say they have been saved from their sins through the grace and mercy of Almighty God through their obedience to the Gospel, and let the redeemed call upon those of their loved ones, their neighbors, and friends to do the same.
We can be good because of the goodness of God. God’s goodness leads to goodness in us.

Elder’s Corner (#318) – Why Do I Need to Go to Church?
Why do we need to meet as a Church? If I can pray at home and develop a relationship with God at home, then why can’t I worship at home?
Well, the easy answer is that the Bible tells me to just that! We know that the Church is not a social club and we know that the Church is not a place we go for entertainment. Then why should it be so important to me that I can wait to return? The most important reason is to worship God. “Sing Psalms, hymns, and songs, worshiping, praising and glorifying our God!” (Col. 3:16). Yes, these things can be done at home, but there is more.
The Apostle Paul says: As in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4–5)
Together, we are Christ’s body! And according to 1 Corinthians 12, each of us has differing roles that are indispensable to the healthy functioning of this body. Through each of us, God is nourishing and growing his body. There are many tasks associated with being a Christian: we are to spread the Word, to teach, to baptize, to encourage one another, maintain the physical needs of Church, give of our means, and obtain a full understanding of the scriptures. It is impossible for us to do all these things individually. Yet they all need to be done!
Heb. 10:24-25 – And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. . . .
James 5:16 – Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
Acts 2:42 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Matthew 18:20 – Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
Because these verses identify “one another”, we can conclude that the emphasis to get together is for living the faith.  Therefore, we need to be much more spiritually involved when we get a chance to be with Christian friends, family and our spouse.  We need to be aware of our spiritual responsibilities with the time we have available.  
We need to get together often. We need to see others worshiping and studying the Bible. We need the strength that comes from companionship with our brothers and sisters. We are a very close congregation and for that I am grateful. We enjoy each other’s company and we respect each other’s opinion. This is good because we will be spending eternity with each other.

Elder’s Corner (#317) – What about the Thief on the Cross?
 Luke 23:39-4   39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself — and us, too, while you’re at it!” 40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” 43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Why do WE have to be baptized and he didn’t?
This point is very simple to answer and it is really surprising to me that anyone would use this story to try and prove baptism isn’t necessary.
First of all, Jesus forgave the sins of this man before the New Covenant had been established. As the writer of Hebrews said, “because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” (Hebrews 9:17). The New Covenant was not in effect yet. People were, at that moment, still under the Law of Moses. The criminal on the cross was forgiven in exactly the same way that the paralytic was forgiven in Matthew 9.
Second, Christian baptism is about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. None of those things had happened yet when the criminal on the cross was forgiven. Read the words of Romans 6:1-7 and try to understand why it would be absurd to think the criminal on the cross would be under the same obligation to be baptized as people today:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Third, the Christian gospel had not yet been preached. After His resurrection, Jesus told the apostles that “forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Forgiveness of sins had not yet even begun to be preached, but it was on the Day of Pentecost, when Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Salvation today is gloriously different than it was for the criminal on the cross, because salvation today is based on a more complete picture of what God has done for mankind and it is part of a new and better covenant with God (Hebrews 7:22). If you want to enter into this new and better covenant, you must be baptized.
If you trust Jesus, as the criminal did, you will do what Jesus said to do. After Jesus died on that cross, was buried in a tomb, and rose from the dead, He told His apostles to go out and spread the Good News about what He had done. He told them, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
Faith is about trusting God. The criminal on the cross trusted Him. Do you? Jesus said, “Whoever believes AND is baptized will be saved.” The criminal on the cross wasn’t told that, but you are! Do you trust Jesus? Will your trust be evidenced by your actions?
Baptism is us saying to the Lord, “I believe you and I trust you. Please save me.” That’s why when you are baptized, you are “calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

Elder’s Corner (#316) – I Can Believe in Anything I Choose!
 God has made man a free moral agent with the power and permission to choose what he will believe and how he will live in this life. God uses no force whatsoever to compel a man to believe something or do something against his will. In this sense, man does have a right to what he will believe. But every man has placed before him right and wrong, truth and error. If man wills to believe that which is wrong and that which is error, he must suffer the consequences of his choice. In this sense, man does not have a right to his own belief; that is, he cannot believe anything he simply wants to believe and still be pleasing in the sight of God.
A person who does not believe in the existence of Jehovah God says, "Everyone has a right to his own belief, and I choose not to believe in God." The question is: Does that person have a right to his own belief? No one has the right to force him to believe in God Almighty. He has a right to his own belief or disbelief. But if when he says, "I have a right to my own beliefs and I don’t believe in any deity," he is boldly declaring that he will not have to suffer any consequences for his beliefs.
A person, who denies the basic teachings of Christianity, and especially the deity of Jesus Christ, does not believe that Jesus was the divine Son of God, but accepts Him as a mere man. This person cannot believe that the Bible is the Holy Word of God. He states: "Everyone has a right to his own belief, and I choose not to believe in the deity of Jesus." Does he have a right to that belief? Sure he does! Here in America it is even written into our laws. No one in heaven or on earth will compel him to believe against his will that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God.
A person, who denies that baptism has anything at all to do with one's salvation from sin, maintains that a sinner can be saved, die and go to heaven without submitting to baptism. True Christians try to reason with that person by showing him that Jesus said, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved," and that Peter said, "Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins," but he replies by simply saying, "Everyone has a right to his own belief, and I choose not to believe that baptism has anything to do with salvation."
God has made people free moral agents with the right to choose what they want to believe. God's Word is placed on one hand and man's opinion on the other. God has given them the intellect to discern both, and God has likewise given them the opportunity to decide which they will believe.
The choice as to which we will believe is given by God to all of us. He will not force us to accept His Truth, but he leaves the decision up to us. But here is the fact that is overlooked - if, when one stands up in the face of God and ridicules the commands of Christ, and scoffs at his importance to our salvation, he has no excuse to give God. He ought to realize as he stands before God in judgment that he will be standing alone.
My sincere plea to all is: let us not use the liberty that God has given us to choose between truth and error to believe and practice that which is false, because it is possible for us to believe a lie and be damned.

Elder’s Corner (#315) – Are You Comfortable in Church?
We are told that God’s word provides us great comfort through the hope and peace it gives; we obtain great comfort in knowing the wicked people of this world will be judged justly; and we receive great comfort by knowing we will be with Him for eternity.
Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance (Romans 8:23-25).
People do not come to Church on a Sunday to be made to feel “uncomfortable” do they? One might think that if anyone regularly goes to Church all his days, but has never felt one bit of inner discomfort - he really has not been to a Christian Church, or, conversely, the Christian Church he attends does not preach Christianity.
We should go to Church to find the truth, a truth we could not otherwise come by, and to worship God in the manner he has set down for us. We do not go to Church to learn what we already know or what is supported in our culture. The truth should “prick” our hearts and cause us to become better people. If, in the Church we attend, no one explains to us the whole Gospel, we profit little by it.
We have all also heard stories of good people who have been to churches in which “love” was the only topic ever preached for the last forty years. The congregation never heard mention anything serious about sin, hatred, persecution, law, repentance, humiliation, discipline, or the “thou shalt nots.”
Does your church continuously promote love, peace, and harmony along with prosperity and success? Does your church provide entertainment for you? Do you get a weekly dose of “feel good” religion? Yes, these things are part of the truth, but not the entire truth. But so is sacrifice, judgement, giving to others, repentance, and obedience to God’s word. God can be strict and loving at the same time. He continuously provides comfort and discipline to His children.
“For these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel! (Isaiah 30:9-10).
We are grateful to those blessed with the ability to explain things clearly even if we don’t like to hear of their applicability to our lives.  No one really wants to be deprived of the whole truth. Whether we like it or not, sooner or later we will need to know the truth about ourselves. It is this “whole truth” that Christ came to explain to us. If we read the Gospel and the Epistles, we are often startled by their bluntness and graphic warnings about how to live or what to think. We must be careful not to skip over these things or ignore them. They are essential to our salvation.

Elder’s Corner (#314) - Authority in Religion
When God found that the children of Israel were becoming disobedient to Him, He spoke to them through Moses and warned them that He would bring forth a man like Moses to speak to them. Whoever disobeyed His word would perish (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).
This promise to the children of Israel was fulfilled by the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19-26). He was born to redeem the world. But He was rejected by the children of Israel among whom He was born and grew up.
One day during His earthly ministry our Lord took three of His disciples and went up into a high mountain. There he was transfigured before them.  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.  And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him! (Mark 9:2-7).
What was the meaning of all this? Moses stood for the Law. People should no longer follow the Law of Moses as a system of worshiping God. Sabbath-keeping, tithing, and animal sacrifices are no longer required. Elijah stood for the prophets who spoke about the coming on earth of a Savior from the seed of David. Now that the Savior has come, men should not go back to the Law and the prophets, but obey the words of Jesus Christ!
Whatever Christ said was not of His own, but words from God the Father. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. (John 12:49-50).
Many people do not obey the words of Christ. Even many religious people have turned away from the words of Christ and substituted their own thoughts. They do not think that Christ was right when he said: And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18). “My” indicates ownership. It is completely wrong for a man or a group of people to form their own religious organization and worship the Lord there. Read Matthew 15:13-14.
The founders of human denominations are blind leaders. Those who worship therein are blind followers. This is why Jesus warned us. Members of man-made churches will be saved.  Read Matthew 7:21-23.
At the Judgment, Jesus will deny certain ones, not because they did not worship Him, but because they did not do it according to His will. God promised to build a house (Isaiah 2:2-3). This house is what Christ called “My” church. Jesus bought this church with His blood: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20:28). No one has a right to form any other church.
We are told in the Bible not to condemn others. We should not determine if one person or another will be saved – that is God job. But we should read what Jesus (God) said and work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). Will God allow followers of man-made churches, go to heaven – based on the words of God it is not likely. I would not bet my (eternal) life on it! Read the Bible for yourself. Make up your own mind. Don’t let others determine your destiny.
How do I know that I am following the word of God and not being led by a man-developed organization? Is it in harmony with the word of God, or is it a liberal interpretation of the word?  Has your beliefs been modified to fit “a modern generation”? The answer is easy: Read the Bible for yourself. Question the authority of your leaders. Let us respect God’s authority! We must not add to the things which God has commanded! We must not subtract from any of the things God has commanded (Revelation 22:18-19). If we do not respect God’s authority in the Bible, we cannot be saved (2 John 9-11).